Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of CARE, addresses the audience during CARE’s Scale X Design Challenge event in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by: Carey Wagner / CARE

Maruf Azam drew a harmonica from his pocket and began playing for the 275 of us who had packed into the New Lab Design and Technology Center in Brooklyn, New York. And while the Bangladeshi tune was traditional, the event was anything but.

Azam was trying to convince a panel of expert judges and a live and online voting audience that Krishi Utsho — a network of shops selling quality supplies and services to smallholder dairy farmers in rural Bangladesh — was ready to be scaled up to improve the lives of millions. By the end of the night, three of the five teams who had made the finals of CARE’s Scale X Design Challenge would be awarded $150,000 cash prizes to help them scale up community-based development projects fast to dramatically increase their impact.

Q&A: CARE's Scale X Design Accelerator program aims to bridge the gap between impact and scale

With its new accelerator program, CARE seeks to speed up the adoption and replication of initiatives that show the most promise in reducing poverty worldwide. Devex explores the organization's foray into the world of innovation and how to go beyond buzzwords to achieve meaningful scale, in this Q&A with CARE's Chief Innovation Officer Dar Vanderbeck.

But Azam had stiff competition.

Four other finalist teams had traveled their own long distances — from Cambodia, Tanzania and Rwanda — unpacking both their own visions for scaling and a desire to win a challenge that, while unique in the poverty-fighting world, does have some roots in CARE’s history. CARE itself was founded in 1945 to deliver on a simple, innovative idea: to save the lives of World War II survivors by sending them CARE Packages full of food and supplies.

Over the next few decades, CARE delivered 100 million of them to families throughout Europe and around the world, adapting the packages to meet local diets and local needs, from seed and farm tools to school supplies. The CARE Package went to scale — by design. Today, more than 70 years later, our Scale X Design Challenge is built on that same belief in innovation as a timeless tool to save more lives, alleviate more poverty and achieve more social justice in a world rife with challenges.

Development's design challenge: Before creating new projects, scale what works

When you're fighting poverty, size matters. Or as we in the development community call it, "scale." In this guest column, Sidonie Uwimpuhwe of CARE Rwanda explains why we should not accept successful projects that end as, well, mere projects. And she makes the case for scaling up an effort to combat violence in her native Rwanda — one of 15 projects competing in CARE's Scale X Design Challenge.

Scale comes by design

Despite the remarkable progress that the global community has made in cutting extreme poverty in half over the past couple of decades, more than 800 million people still live on less than $2 a day. Enormous need and inequities remain. Armed conflict, disease, natural disasters, political hurdles and social norms challenge us to create new and innovative approaches to overcoming entrenched poverty.

We have to do more and in new ways.

By the end of the decade, CARE aims to support 200 million people from the most vulnerable and excluded communities as they defeat poverty and achieve social injustice. Innovation is key to that — not only in reaching them, but in reaching them faster.

So if a great idea is breakthrough in its ability to help people lift themselves out of poverty, we want to replicate that success across entire countries, regions and, in some cases, the world, but we can’t simply wave a magic wand and say “scale.” It takes great forethought, intention and investment. In other words, scale comes by design.

“Today’s best ideas come from the men and women working in communities around the world who understand what works in specific and often challenging contexts.”

— Michelle Nunn, president and CEO, CARE

It’s about bringing people together around the most innovative ideas in the development field so that — through investment, partnership and mentorship — we can deepen our collective impact around the world by taking those ideas to scale, faster.

The challenge was the pinnacle of our inaugural Scale X Design Accelerator, a first-of-its-kind platform drawing on many private sector examples to rapidly design, test, learn, iterate and implement what we know already works.

via YouTube

Innovation, impact, and alliances

Spotlight on the challenge winners

Azam’s Krishi Utsho project did indeed take home one of those $150,000 prizes. Our challenge judges — Lauren Bush Lauren, founder and CEO of FEED, which creates products that engage consumers in the fight against world hunger; David Belt, co-founder and CEO of New Lab; and Dr. Hazem Fahmy, country director for CARE in Egypt — awarded the two other prizes to:

Mobile Application to Secure Tenure, or MAST: an app that helps people in Tanzania map and claim title to their land faster, cheaper and more reliably than ever before

CHAT! Contraception: a package of technology that promotes health education among women factory workers in urban Cambodia

Other finalists included: Journeys of Transformation, which helps couples transform power dynamics in Rwanda; and Chomoka, which uses a mobile app to digitize the CARE Village Savings and Loan Association model, allowing VSLA members in Tanzania to access formal banking services, manage their account and gain advisory support.

Over the decades at CARE, we’ve seen how long it can take for our most promising programs to reach scale, and we all know a similar lag applies throughout the development field. It’s a problem. So as we thought of how to close that gap between innovation and impact, we asked ourselves, how can we do more — better and faster? Which CARE programs are having the greatest impact? How can we scale them? What can we learn from others and where is the nexus between innovation and international development? Our answer was — and is — Scale X Design.

The first cohort of 15 teams that followed the accelerator curriculum — and ultimately competed for the combined $450,000 — were all CARE projects. But our aim going forward is to engage other organizations, other projects and ideas, other team leaders — maybe even a harmonica or two — in order to accelerate the pace at which the world’s best development programs reach the people who need them most. We need unlikely alliances and the creativity generated from diversity.

Scale X Design represents the future of innovation and scale at CARE, and, more broadly, we believe it’s a leap forward in social development, helping to shape a future in which we all work together to tackle — and overcome — the world’s greatest challenges.

The future for innovation

Regardless of the winners in this particular competition, we know that today’s best ideas come from the men and women working in communities around the world who understand what works in specific and often challenging contexts. Those ideas just need the investment to move them exponentially forward. The five teams that competed in Brooklyn represent some of our best investments in the future that CARE envisions: A world of hope, tolerance and social justice, where poverty has been overcome and all people live with dignity and security.

Innovation can take us there together, but only if we scale up the innovations that are working best and changing lives.

CARE’s Scale X Design Challenge awards $450,000 to help close the gap between innovation and impact. For more on the challenge finalists, watch the video here.

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About the author

  • Michelle Nunn

    Michelle Nunn is president and CEO of CARE USA, a global poverty-fighting organization that worked in 94 countries and reached more than 80 million people in 2016. Michelle has spent 27 years in civic and public service, as a social entrepreneur, a nonprofit CEO and a candidate for U.S. Senate in Georgia. She co-founded the volunteer-mobilization organization Hands On Atlanta before engineering its merger with Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service. She served as its CEO from 2007-2013.