“The Gates Foundation and its Grand Challenges partners hope to inspire a large global network of initiatives designed to foster innovation to improve the lives of the poorest people in the world.”
In the 21st century, it is not news that open innovation is being adopted as a strategy for accessing insights, changing innovations process and using collective intelligence to solve complex problems. Today, I want to highlight how non- profits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (“Gates Foundation”), also benefit from open innovation. The Gates Foundation is on the path to solving some of the world’s “Grand Challenges,” such as poverty, world hunger, developing countries health problems, as the organization leverages the participation of diverse stakeholders and seek to solve problems that current public and private sectors aren’t able to solve. The use of open innovation is crucial to the foundation since it helps to generate questions worth answering, to better solicit solutions to open-ended questions and to help the foundation in deciding charity allocation.
Gates Foundation is the largest philanthropic organization in history. It has given away $33.5 Billion, principally to eradicate disease and hunger among the developing worlds. The foundation and its “managers” have made huge progress. But Bill and Melinda have described themselves as “Impatient Optimistic.” Sometimes it is difficult to imagine how much the foundation can accomplish in just 2 – 10 years, considering the considerable challenges global health and poverty issues. But the Grand Challenges program was one of the solutions they had to use collective intelligence from governments, companies, and foundations to solve some of the hardest global health and development problems. The Grand Challenge has demonstrated the foundation’s vision and several successes already solving the global health issues: Grants to Logistimo (Bulletin Board” For Broadcasting Vaccine Supply/Demand) and Nexleaf Analytics (Remote Monitoring the Cold Chain Distribution of Vaccines) are perfect examples of how the open innovation idea has spurred commercial solution for vaccines. Those two ideas came through the open-ended Grand Challenges program, evolved into thriving companies that are revolutionizing immunization in low-resource environments using innovative data tools.
While the foundation has started to collaborate with local government and policymakers on various levels, I believe this can be leveraged more in the near and medium terms. Currently, there is Grand Challenges India/China/Korea, which is jointly run by the government of India/Korea/China and other partners. And there’s a Grand Challenges Africa, which offers seed money to innovators from across the continent. I do think to do more local level crowdsourcing and diverging the money into smaller amounts in support of more ideas could help with the foundation’s philanthropic portfolio. Working with other foundations such as USAID, Chan-Zuckerberg, or other partners can increase the awareness of the Grand Challenge to a broader audience and solicit more solutions. Besides the current Grand Challenges, I also wonder if the foundation can allocate some of its energy towards other challenging topics such as education, world hunger, and women rights, issues that can benefit from the open innovation method and process.
There is the potential debate of whether the foundation should make a centralized decision about allocation of funds or rely on the “Grand Challenges” to address issues previously might not be raised. I also do wonder in healthcare, would a thinktank/conference with the best medical professional be more efficient than the crowdsourcing of ideas. The challenges are difficult on the global scale but also the subject itself requires a certain level of medical expertise that an average person might not be able to contribute.
Ultimately, the grand challenges fit within the “Impatient Optimists” motto of the Gate and Melinda Foundation. It utilizes open innovation and crowdsourcing to motivate scientists, governments and private funders investing in innovation not for innovation’s sake, but rather to “solve the greatest challenges facing our civilization.” As the foundation writes people tend to underestimate how long new discoveries will take – but we also underestimate how revolutionary they’ll be. I am looking forward to seeing the big ideas from the Grand Challenges program change the world.
Buchsbaum, Steven. 2018. “Grand Challenges: Fueling Innovation In Global Health And Development”. Impatient Optimists. https://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2018/01/Grand-Challenges-Fueling-Innovation-in-Global-Health-and-Development.
“Grand Challenges For Development | U.S. Global Development Lab | U.S. Agency For International Development”. 2018. Usaid.Gov. https://www.usaid.gov/grandchallenges.
Heilpern, John. 2018. “Why Bill And Melinda Gates Call Themselves “Impatient Optimists””. Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/09/melinda-gates-impatient-optimist.
Klugman, Keith. 2018. “Ending The Pandemic Threat: A Grand Challenge For Universal Influenza Vaccine Development”. Impatient Optimists. https://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2018/05/Ending-the-Pandemic-Threat-A-Grand-Challenge-for-Universal-Influenza-Vaccine-Development#.W-tOX5NKg2y.
“Project Retrospectives | Grand Challenges”. 2018. Gcgh.Grandchallenges.Org. https://gcgh.grandchallenges.org/retrospectives.
Steven Buchsbaum, Kedest Tesfagiorgis. 2018. “Building The Grand Challenges Community”. Impatient Optimists. https://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2016/05/Building-the-Grand-Challenges-Community#.W-poXZNKg2w.