Innovative financing for health: Insights from the Grand Challenges Award Repository

Kenya’s Ugunja Community Resource Center will empower community health volunteers in Western Kenya with field-tested, mobile phone software to individualize early child development care. Photo by: Grand Challenges Canada

A new database managed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is providing opportunities to better understand priorities for funders supporting innovative health projects.

Years in the making, the Grand Challenges Award Repository provides information on 2,009 projects that have been through funded seven innovative health initiatives since 2005 — including five grand challenges, Saving Brains and Saving Lives at Birth.

To understand how these initiatives are helping the development community in Going for Goals, Devex has analyzed the data and produced a visualization tool to unlock critical insights.

What are the funding priorities?

The Devex analysis of the dataset reveals infectious diseases tops innovative funding support according to the dataset. Since 2005, this sector of development health has received more than $550 million in funding for 1,057 projects providing new and innovative ideas to tackle, prevent and eliminate infectious diseases in the developing world.

Of the diseases the projects aim to support, HIV projects dominate, accounting for 199 projects and almost $100 million in funding since 2005. The peak for HIV projects was in 2011, where 44 were awarded funding. Malaria and tuberculosis projects are also high priorities for funders, according to the data, each receiving $51 million in funding support.

Funding for maternal and child health follows behind infectious diseases in priority, with $136 million in funding since 2005. And a long way behind that are mental health and WASH, both receiving $22 million in support since 2005.

With 1,300 projects in the database managed through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the focus on infectious diseases is unsurprising — it is a high priority for the organization. So far, they have invested $357 million into this area of innovative research.

The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health has also been an important source of funding for this area, managing $178 million worth of grants for infectious diseases since 2005.

But the dataset also shows that funding in support of innovation is allowing for experimentation and risk. For Grand Challenges Canada, 593 projects were classified as a “proof-of-concept” with 38 classified as “transition-to-scale.” Innovative funding for health is allowing for true innovation and impact of new ideas to be determined.

What is the geographic distribution?

The location of funding recipients shows a large sway toward research from the United States. A total of 771 projects have gone to the U.S., accounting for $393 million in grants. And a massive 86 percent of this goes directly to research and projects for infectious diseases.

The United Kingdom is a long way behind in second, with $93 million in funding followed by Canada with $57 million. Kenyan organizations have secured $34 million in funding and are ranked fourth in recipients, ahead of Germany and Australia.

In looking at the geographic location of projects, India tops the list in both number of projects (98) and funding (almost $20 million) thanks to Grand Challenges India. 2014 was their peak year for funding, with 36 projects accounting for $6 million. Maternal and child health is a focus for India-based projects, accounting for 26 projects and more than $8 million in funding. Close behind are projects responding to infectious disease — 25 projects and more than $4 million in funding.

Kenya and Uganda round out the top three for both number of projects and funding, with projects operating in these countries prioritizing maternal and child health needs within their borders.

Canada is the only western country to make the top 10 — ranked sixth for projects but 15th for funding with Grand Challenges Canada an important source of this.

Additional geographic data is available in the dataset that identifies countries supported by projects, however this is a field that is not predominantly populated within the database and provides only minor insight into impact. It is an area of the dataset that is hoped will be improved over time.

Click here to explore the Grand Challenges Award Repository data through our Tableau data visualization.

The challenge of collecting innovative funding data

“If you are working on a dataset for innovative health funding, this is the most complete available.”

— Zach Charat, program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Zach Charat, from the global health, discovery and translational sciences with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke to Devex about the purpose, development and future for the data repository — which he describes as been a long and demanding process.

“We wanted to create a data model that was powerful but limited,” he said. “Some of the initial conversations were crazy in terms of the tracking requests we had. But there was no way we could get the community to agree to everything, so we decided to simply focus on what is most useful — a core set of 20 or fewer fields to start with.”

Information within the database is provided by the managing organization of the grants, and the process of tracking funders and getting them to agree to the data fields for inclusion highlighted the issues with data collection on innovative funding.

Where the money goes, where the work is being done and potential beneficiaries are useful pieces of information that are available within the database, but not necessarily populated universally by the data providers.

“Most of the really juicy information is not in there — including outcomes,” Charat said. “But all of the data providers have a relatively clean checkbook, and can at least tell us where the money went.”

And it is still easily the most informative dataset available on innovative health funding, according to Charat. “We’ve got India in there, China in there, Korea in there,” he said. “I need to work on Israel but they only have a dozen. It’s actually quite complete — it is missing a few but if you are working on a dataset for innovative health funding, this is the most complete available.”

And the ease of accessibility to information makes this a valuable dataset for the development sector.

“Now we can answer question on a range of issues related to health funding, including maternal and child health funding,” Charat said. “Previously it would have taken weeks — or you would just have given up.”

What is the next stage for innovating funding data?

Now that the data is available, the priority is to convince the development community it is an important initiative to get behind and add even more value to the data.

“It would be great if each organization could track nuances in their data better, but we are in the early stages of collecting data and are focused on getting them out of the mud to see the value,” Charat said. “If they see value, organizations may look to hire a summer student to do a big clean up and provide more value.”

But there are also a range of options being trialled and tested for dynamic inputs, outputs and analytics.

“Some organizations want a dynamic API to collect their data but others may make a dozen grants per year — their upload process is manual,” Charat explained. “We are working through the development of the API to make it easy for an organization to hook into the dataset.”

Analysis in understanding the next stage of needs is important to progressing the database moving forward. The first generation of users are primarily funders who just want to understand what their colleagues are doing. Charat will be helping to scope the second generation use case of the site to identify and provide future services.

And increased datasets is also a priority in development.

“The next big one we are fishing for is the U.S. Agency for International Development data, particularly Saving Lives at Birth programs that are not currently managed by Gates Foundation or Grand Challenges Canada,” Charat said. “Saving Lives at Birth is a complicated one — even the grantees themselves don’t know who their funder is. It is a split funding disaster. That’s my last frontier in terms of big sets we need.”

For Charat, the possibilities of the stories and successes that can come out of the dataset are endless. “Once you get a good foundation of data, you can go crazy and dream up all sorts of really fun and potential applications,” he said.

Interrogate the Grand Challenges Award Repository data through our Tableau data visualization.

Over 10 weeks Devex and our partners will take an in-depth look at the innovative financing mechanisms driving forward the 2030 sustainable development agenda. We’ll explore how the funding gap can be filled, ask how cross-sector collaboration can lead to improved global health care, and look at what it takes to build successful partnerships for change. Join us as we examine the innovative financing powering the Global Goals by tagging #Going4Goals and @devex.

About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.