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The future of development innovation

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digital for Development, Technology

It’s an exciting time to be at the heart of innovation in global development here at DFID’s Innovation Hub.

The landscape for development innovation is changing. New actors are looking for new, transformative solutions. Foundations and social impact investors are looking to invest in innovation and technologies that have the potential to deliver both high social impact and economic returns.

A recent JP Morgan report estimated that the potential capital market for this kind of impact investing could grow to $1 trillion; a potentially vast source of new financing that could support development goals. Despite the enormous possibility for private investors to provide the capital to scale-up game-changing development solutions, however, today that potential is not yet being realised.

The technology, design and creative industries are also exploring how their skills and expertise could have an impact in the developing world. At the same time, young people are no longer just looking to work for large corporations for financial gain, but want to start enterprises with an engrained social purpose. Some of the most promising development innovations are being pioneered by commercially sustainable social enterprises that aim to deliver positive social change. We are entering the age of the social entrepreneur.

The approach for donor funded innovation programming is also changing. For many years, this has been characterised by a ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ attitude. As a result, some compelling new approaches to tackle development challenges have emerged. But, the future focus of donor funded innovation programmes will be to take the next step, and scale the very best.

In order to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities this landscape provides, new ways of stimulating innovation and new models for effective collaboration are needed.

This week marks an important milestone for the UK Department for International Development’s Innovation Hub, as we have launched 2 new initiatives to address these challenges and opportunities.

A venture-style approach

I’m really proud that we have just launched Global Innovation Fund (GIF), a partnership between the UK, US, Swedish and Australian governments and the Omidyar Network. A not-for-profit organisation headquartered in London, the £125 million fund will invest in social innovations that aim to improve the lives and opportunities of millions of people living in poverty in the developing world.

Borrowing from the experience of venture capital, GIF offers 3 stages of financing to pilot, test and scale innovations. GIF supports innovators who are committed to using and generating rigorous evidence about what works, and invests the largest funding amounts in innovations that can demonstrate evidence of success and that have potential to spread across multiple developing countries.

GIF seeks innovative solutions that can scale up commercially, through the public or philanthropic sector, or through a combination of both in order to achieve widespread adoption.

To scale through the public sector, the donor community needs to collaborate by bringing financial and human capital together. GIF will grow proven concepts to widespread adoption and collaborate with partner governments, private investors, foundations and donor resources to support solutions that are proven, scalable, and offer more value for money than current practice.

In order to unlock social and commercial investment and scale commercially, GIF will also support innovations through the funding ‘valley of death’ – that is, the funding gap between early-stage donor grant funding and seed-capital and; mid-to-later stage social and commercial investment. It will do this by providing funding to get innovations ‘market-ready’ and to an investable state, and by brokering more systematic links with social impact and commercial investors.

GIF has global reach, ambition and scope. Grounded in the belief that good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, GIF is open to innovations in almost any developing country, across any sector, from any organisation, and from early seed testing to later-stage scale.

GIF is open for business and accepting proposals – see for more information and how to apply

A human-centred design and collaborative approach

While GIF will work to take proven ideas to scale, there is still work to be done in terms of sourcing new ideas from fresh perspectives – and finding ways to make development more accessible and collaborative.

Working in partnership with the human-centred design firm and OpenIdeo, DFID’s Amplify programme is about doing just that – it’s a way of experimenting with the process for identifying innovative solutions to stubborn development challenges. It will tackle 10 development challenges over 5 years using an open, collaborative design process, and will provide funding and design support to the most promising solutions from each of the 10 challenges.

The programme works by setting a challenge to’s online community, a platform of over 50,000 participants. The participants then work through a four-stage design process, tackling the challenge in phases, from research, through to an open call for ideas, into shortlisting and refinement, and finally evaluation and funding. The programme also uses radio projects, workshops and networks of volunteers to draw on the insights and ideas of communities that can’t get online.

The second challenge launches this week, and will ask the world ‘How might parents in low income communities ensure children thrive in the first 5 years’. Amplify works by crowding in as many voices as possible – for insights, feedback and fresh thoughts as well as proposals for solutions.

Last month, I joined a convening session in Arusha, Tanzania, which brought together practitioners in the field of early childhood development and innovation to kick this off. Early Childhood Development is a vital issue as investing in children at a young age has the potential to change the fortunes of entire generations. It even gave me ideas to try out with my son! Anyone can join – so be part of it. Go to to find out more.

We have developed Amplify and GIF to support a broader base of innovators, entrepreneurs, technologists and designers to apply their skills to development challenges and to use approaches to stimulating innovation that are different from current development practice.

I’m looking forward to seeing whether they are successful in developing more relevant, impactful, cost-effective, sustainable and scalable solutions – what is certain is that new approaches are required to exploit the potential of the rapidly shifting innovation development landscape.

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  1. Comment by Melanie Adekale PhD posted on

    Innovation in development is certainly needed and I wish these initiatives every success. There is definitely a shift away from big corporations and many, not only the young, seeking more fulfilling and meaningful contributions to the global village via social enterprise.

  2. Comment by Sam Jones posted on

    Potentially interesting times if DIFID are open to innovative solutions to 'Development' which seriously considers the socioeconomic impact potential brought about through the Creative Industries