By: Rob Hoehn
Open innovation can be organized into a more inclusive granting mechanism. In the past, nonprofits and other organizations would fund social enterprises by asking for a written proposal—but combining mentorship and crowdsourcing creates new opportunities and community solutions. Find out how it worked for Pact and the US Department of State in this case study.
Crowdsourcing is a tactic used by businesses as well as the public and private sectors to solve problems large and small by asking a distributed network of people to contribute to solutions, rather than relying on an individual or a closed group of people. This could mean asking for information, ideas, resources, the completion of tasks, and more.
Another way that businesses have sought to create change is by investing in promising new companies and rewarding those that perform well. Many nonprofits and other organizations have adopted this tactic as well by offering grants or investment to social enterprises. This allows solutions to emerge from within communities, and supports the entrepreneurs and activists that live there. Consequently, many nonprofits and social good businesses spend a great deal of time and resources in grant writing.
Both of these approaches have been in use for a long time, but there is a new approach that combines the wide, collaborative net of crowdsourcing with the rigorous mentorship of granting.
In 2020, all around the world, people were experiencing the damaging effects of COVID-19. Communities saw challenges in delivering essential services—such as in the health and education sectors—and suffered long-term economic hardships due to widespread disruptions in supply chains and loss of employment.
In October 2020, Pact launched AfrIdea, a regional innovation program supported by the U.S. Department of State. AfrIdea was geared toward unlocking the potential of West African entrepreneurs, social activists, and developers to uncover solutions to post-COVID challenges. Through a contest, training, idea-a-thon and follow-on funding, they sought to activate a network of young entrepreneurs and innovators from Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and Togo to source and grow innovative solutions.
All innovators were asked to submit business solutions to challenges in the areas of economy, health, and education. Businesses were nurtured and funded in a seven-stage process, but one of the surprises to the AfrIdea program leaders was that many finalists collaborated and combined their solutions. They built more impactful businesses while also improving the value of the community as part of the process. And the novel results speak for themselves: apart from nurturing over 40 fledgling businesses and collaborative teams from the four participating countries, AfrIdea has generated a number of new solutions to better solve post-crisis challenges, including an innovative, online, and easy-to-access platform that aims to connect parents and teachers in a virtual market; a recycling project that aims to recover masks in order to turn them into insulators for construction companies; and many more.
To read more about the seven stages that nurtured entrepreneurs, and how grant application processes were combined with crowdsourcing, download the AfrIdea case study here.
About the Author
Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.