Exploratory Programs and Innovation Competitions (EPIC)

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

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Exploratory Programs and Innovation Competitions

Prizes, Challenges, and Grand Challenges incentivize local and global entrepreneurs, academics, civil society, and other passionate problem solvers to pilot, test, and scale innovative solutions to global development problems. The Exploratory Programs and Innovation Competitions (EPIC) Team provides advisory technical assistance to   USAID Missions, Bureaus, and Operating Units around designing, launching, and implementing results-focused competitions.

Why Consider Open Innovation Competitions?

USAID uses open-innovation competitions to:

  • Incentivize and inspire anyone, anywhere to pitch innovative solutions addressing evolving, complex problems presented to USAID Bureaus, Missions, and Operating Units and the people they serve
  • Test existing ideas to identify what works
  • Incentivize promising solutions with financing 
  • Enable follow-on investments for and bring attention to proven solutions for greater scale
  • Promote sustainable, long-lasting impact by addressing barriers to innovation through partnerships and technical assistance

Types of Open Innovation Competitions

Open-innovation competitions use research and co-creation to define the problem we aim to address and inform competition design. These competitions feature a public call for innovation to inspire and incentivize new and nontraditional solvers to create new solutions, or to adapt existing ones, to address a problem. The three types of open-innovation competitions are:

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 provide funds to test what may work and deliver awards based on the maturity and estimated impact of the solutions. Challenges monitor 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 address issues at a project level, allowing multiple activities to be designed and funded. Grand Challenges may use multiple types of innovation approaches, including challenges, prizes, hackathons, specific funding windows, and behavior change campaigns.

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Last updated: December 01, 2021

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