USAID and partners launch funding mechanism for global development innovators

A mother and her baby at a clinic in Taulabé, Honduras. The U.S. Agency for International Development and other major donors unveiled a grant program aimed at preventing maternal and neonatal deaths during childbirth. The program is the first in a series of new funding mechanisms by the agency and its partners. Photo by: USAID / CC BY

The U.S. Agency for International Development, in partnership with several other major donors, on Wednesday (March 9) announced the first in a series of new funding mechanisms aimed at boosting innovative solutions to global challenges. The first grant program focuses on preventing maternal and neonatal deaths during childbirth, and is open to innovators around the globe.

“Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development” is a $50 million, five-year partnership between USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Norway, the World Bank and Grand Challenges Canada. It offers financial assistance for the development and implementation of new ideas on how to deliver treatment and prevention health services to pregnant women and newborn children in low-income rural communities.

Similar funding mechanisms on innovative solutions in education, energy, water and agriculture will be unveiled in the coming months, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said Wednesday during a bloggers teleconference on the sidelines of the Saving Lives at Childbirth’s launch in Washington, D.C.

These initiatives are attuned with ongoing efforts to transform USAID into an innovative agency that leverages investments from the private sector and partner countries. The first one, on maternal health, also supports the agency’s new global health focus on rapidly scaling innovative health interventions, and it tackles a Millennium Development Goal that is considered among the hardest to reach by the international community’s self-imposed 2015 deadline.

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The launch was attended by Melinda Gates, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Grand Challenges Canada head Peter Singer, World Bank Vice President for Human Development Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, and Tore Godal, the Norwegian prime minister’s special adviser on global health, among others.

Saving lives during childbirth

Through the Saving Lives at Birth challenge, USAID and its partners seek to funnel money quickly to social entrepreneurs, universities, corporations and other innovators around the globe. The challenge is “widely open” and not restricted to USAID’s “usual partners,” Shah said, adding that the agency and its partners “want to reach a broad range of problem solvers.”

The focus is on prevention and treatment approaches in three areas: science and technology, service delivery, and demand. It offers two types of grants: seed grants worth up to $250,000 for the development and validation of ideas into proof of concepts, and transition grants of up to $2 million to scale promising integrated innovations.

USAID is set to issue a request for proposals through grants.gov in the coming month to get the competition rolling. The RFP will also be published on the Devex website.

A strong proposal is “daring in premise” and scalable in low-income and resource poor settings, has a strong likelihood of providing sustainable impact, and enables or provides low-cost solutions, according to a fact sheet about the challenge. USAID and its partner organizations will also consider applicants’ ability to deliver results, their monitoring and evaluation strategies, and their plans for sharing best practices with the development community, Shah said.

Deadline for submitting proposals for the first funding round, which is expected to dole out up to $14 million worth in grants, is April 29. The first round of winners will be announced in July and funding will be available starting September.

Community of innovators

The Saving Lives at Birth challenge is not solely focused on funding, Shah stressed. USAID and its partners will bring together winners to form a “community of innovators.” This community will receive networking assistance and other support from all partners, engage with other innovators and join high-level events such as the Gates Foundation’s annual Grand Challenges meetings.

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About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.