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Adding to the Innovation Ecosystem: Announcing Five New Grand Challenges Calls

  • Steven Buchsbaum, Mar 7, 2018

The Gates Foundation created Grand Challenges, its flagship open innovation program, in 2003. Since then, it has grown in almost every conceivable way. Organizations from other countries are sponsoring their own Grand Challenges programs. All the sponsors are issuing challenges that address an even broader range of priorities in global health and development. Together, we’ve experimented with format to seek innovations from a more diverse collection of applicants.

The bad news is that all this evolution can make it very challenging to explain coherently what Grand Challenges is. The good news is that more and more life-saving and life-improving solutions are coming to the fore.

This month, we are announcing five new challenges that collectively provide some perspective on the scale and scope of our ambitions. We started Grand Challenges almost 15 years ago to encourage people with big ideas to concentrate on the problems that prevent the poorest from thriving. We invite you to apply to one of the challenges listed below and join us.

The first three challenges are sponsored by the Grand Challenges Explorations program, which is designed for very early-stage ideas. We make the barrier to entry low - it’s just a two-page application - and recipients receive $100,000 over 18 months to see where their idea leads.

  • Affordable, Accessible, and Appealing: The Next Generation of Nutrition:Malnutrition is an underlying cause of almost half of child deaths. Even when it doesn’t kill, chronic malnutrition can impair children’s cognitive development and sap their potential. In some instances, there simply isn’t enough nutritious food available. But in others, the food isn’t accessible to the people who would buy it. Or, if it is, they don’t want to buy it, either because they don’t know about its benefits or because less nutritious food is more popular. We want to work within the existing food systems in low-income countries to make sure that food product development, processing, packaging, distribution and retail channels, consumer education, and marketing are working together to improve people’s diets.

  • Tools and Technologies for Broad-Scale Disease Surveillance of Crop Plants in Low-Income Countries: Pests and crop disease can decimate smallholder farmers’ crops, putting millions of people at risk of hunger and poverty. Few data exist on what diseases and pests are present and where. Without this knowledge, it’s difficult to adequately respond to protect farmers’ fields. Fortunately, emerging research in data science, engineering, biology, chemistry, computer science, and telecommunications could transform pest and disease surveillance. We want to help innovators use new technologies and tools to conduct pest and disease surveillance, especially over large geographic areas in low-income countries, so that smallholders can mitigate their risks.

  • Innovations in Immunization Data Management, Use, and Improved Process Efficiency: 1.5 million children will die this year from diseases vaccines could have prevented. We hope to encourage innovators to save those lives in two ways. First, by discovering ways to collect and use data in real time to improve vaccination coverage. Second, by developing process efficiencies that make immunization systems work better for both health workers and patients.

The fourth challenge is sponsored by our partner, Grand Challenges Explorations-Brazil. It is specifically for citizens of Brazil affiliated with Brazilian organizations.

  • Data Science Approaches to Improve Maternal and Child Health in Brazil: Analyzing big datasets can make it possible to see connections across domains that would never have been revealed by standard clinical trials approach. Brazil’s Center for Data and Knowledge Integration for Health (CIDACS) links information from multiple databases maintained by the Ministry of Health, including data from the 100 million Brazilians enrolled in the Bolsa Familia Program, a national conditional cash transfer program. The GCE-Brazil grantees will have access to this unique and powerful dataset, and they will propose data analysis and modelling approaches that could lead to cost-effective solutions to stubborn problems in maternal and child health.

The fifth challenge, which has different application requirements and award amounts that vary depending on the project, is sponsored by the original Grand Challenges program.

  • Campylobacter spp. Transmission Dynamics in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Recent studies have shown that Campylobacter infects children in low- and middle-income countries at higher rates than previously believed, and it interferes with children’s growth and development. The global health community now needs to discover the best way to prevent Campylobacter infections. To start this process, we seek to understand the sources of Campylobacter infection in the most vulnerable children, and the dynamics of transmission in communities where they live.

These are just the challenges being announced this month.

In November, the Misk Foundation, established by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, launched Misk Grand Challenges and issued two different calls that seek to empower youth with both the skills they need to succeed in the knowledge economy and the passion required to tackle the world’s most challenging problems.

Last month, Grand Challenges Explorations-India issued its fourth call for proposals, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.K. Department for International Development, and Grand Challenges issued a call for innovations to save and improve the lives of those caught in humanitarian crises.

See the complete list of open calls here.

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is part of the Grand Challenges partnership network. Visit www.grandchallenges.org to view the map of awarded grants across this network and grant opportunities from partners.
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