A decade after USAID launched its first Grand Challenge (GC), the Agency sponsored a Meta-Evaluation Report that examined nine of 11 GCs that have reached a significant level of maturity and impact to date.
A decade after USAID launched its first Grand Challenge (GC), the Agency sponsored a Meta-Evaluation Report that examined nine of 11 GCs that have reached a significant level of maturity and impact to date. Learn more
Marlon del Aguila

Exploratory Programs and Innovation Competitions

To address global development and humanitarian issues at scale, we need to invest in innovations generated by and with those communities most impacted. One of the most effective ways to find these solutions—particularly among new partners, sectors, and passionate problem-solvers—is through open innovation competitions. 

USAID’s Exploratory Programs and Innovation Competitions (EPIC) team leverages open innovation competitions—i.e., prizes, challenges, hackathons, and Grand Challenges—to identify, incentivize, and support effective solutions to pressing development needs, and to scale the most promising ideas in sustainable ways.

Specifically, EPIC …

  • Designs, launches, and implements results-driven open innovation competitions.
  • Supports USAID Missions, Bureaus, and Operating Units in implementing their own open innovation competitions by sharing expertise, resources, and start-to-finish technical assistance.
  • Drives additional investments from different funders via Grand Challenges and open innovation competitions to help scale effective innovations and inspire even greater impact.
  • Connects USAID operating units with other results-based funders to scale promising and proven ideas.

USAID’s EPIC team uses open innovation competitions to:

  • Incentivize and inspire anyone, anywhere, to bring innovative solutions to address the most pressing problems.
  • Test existing ideas to identify those most promising or effective for particular contexts. 
  • Help address development challenges through innovative financing—thereby making it easier for non-traditional groups to partner with USAID. 
  • Offer tiered funding to pilot, test, and scale the most promising solutions, enabling calculated risks and maximizing taxpayer resources.
  • Promote sustainable, long-lasting impact by addressing barriers to innovation through partnerships and technical assistance. 
  • Spread the word about proven solutions to inspire additional investments and bring those ideas to scale.

Competitions also augment USAID's investment by attracting funds from new and diverse sources. Since 2011, USAID’s competitions have infused $1.5 billion into locally driven solutions, of which only $138 million represented USAID funding; that’s a more than 10:1 investment ratio.

EPIC provides start-to-finish support for USAID units to design, implement, and sustain three types of open innovation competitions:

  • Prize Competitions involve payments made upon the achievement of specific results. USAID prizes reward the competitor(s) who can accomplish an outcome first, best, or more than other competitors. Hackathons are a type of prize competition that convenes diverse actors to develop rapid prototypes in response to a problem.
  • Challenges search for multiple solutions, make awards, and test those solutions. They fund what may work and deliver awards based on the maturity and estimated impact of the solutions. Challenges typically monitor a number of different awards within a portfolio, meaning innovations are measured against one another to identify the most effective approaches.
  • Grand Challenges offer a broader platform than Challenges. They convene governments, private sector entities, and philanthropic foundations through multi-year partnerships to find solutions to some of the most pressing development or humanitarian challenges, with emphasis on addressing critical barriers to innovation and scale. Grand Challenges may use multiple types of innovation approaches, including challenges, prizes, hackathons, co-creation, specific funding windows, and behavior change campaigns.

Join us 

Together, we can incentivize local partners to innovate—and enable development resources to more effectively save lives and promote a more free, peaceful, and prosperous world. Check out the links below, or contact us at to learn how to apply to current competitions or to invest alongside EPIC and our innovation collaborators.

Exploratory Programs and Innovation Competitions