In March 2015, Securing Water for Food announced its third call for innovations. This $12.5 million call for proposals focuses on identifying market-driven, low-cost, and scalable solutions that will enable us to improve water efficiency and wastewater reuse; enhance water capture and storage; and reduce the impacts of salinity on aquifers and food production.
The third call has an increased focus on cutting-edge, advanced technologies and business models, as well as those that prioritize the engagement of women. Up to an additional $2.5 million is expected to be available for innovations implemented in the MENA region as part of USAID’s new Middle East Water Security Initiative. The focus of the Challenge is to support game-changing innovations at two stages, both of which must be post-pilot and present viable business models:
- Stage 1: Market-driven product in the process of business development
- Stage 2: Established innovations ready for scaling and commercial growth
The first call for proposals will close on May 22, 2015 at 5 PM EST. Winners will be announced in October 2015. Up to 30 innovators are expected to receive between $100,000 and $3 million in funding and acceleration support.
How will winners be selected?
The Founding Partners will select the winning innovations through a rigorous evaluation process. Securing Water for Food is not funding projects. Rather, we are “investing” in innovations at the water/food nexus that have high potential to be brought to scale. While SWFF funding takes the form of a grant rather than an actual investment, the SWFF Founding Partners play a role similar to that of investors and are more involved in their success than a traditional grant program through the offering of acceleration support and other forms of technical assistance. The strategy for Securing Water for Food includes the following core elements:
- Understanding of the local enabling environment for technology and business innovations. Applicants must be able to articulate the social, environmental, institutional, legal, and regulatory challenges for their innovation and describe how they will overcome those barriers. Applicants must also provide market research that describes local market conditions.
- Promotion of user-centered design, not technology for the sake of technology. Thousands of water technologies exist but are not available or utilized. In many cases, this is due to a lack of understanding of the needs of end users in developing or emerging countries. Securing Water for Food will emphasize the importance of the end-user in its criteria, milestones, and subsequent innovation reviews.
- All innovations must be sustainable. Our goal is to use our resources, not as a subsidy, but rather as a resource to catalyze investments by others. All Securing Water for Food innovations must be sustainable (financially, institutionally, environmentally, technologically, and socially). In addition, innovations must directly or indirectly benefit the poor (i.e. increased income, increased adoption of products or services, increased economic opportunities) and must avoid negative environmental effects and negative local market distortions.
- Show how the innovation benefits women. Often, there is an inequality between women and men in the use of water/agricultural innovations leading to men controlling both the inputs and outputs in production. Thus, Securing Water for Food is seeking gender-neutral innovations that address women and men equitably rather than focusing on men. The Challenge is also looking for women-focused innovations that highlight the roles, skills, and capacities of women. We have found that implementation projects often need an explicit women’s focus to successfully reach female beneficiaries.
- Local presence is critical. Successful applicants must either already have presence or at least one local partner in the developing country where they propose to work.
- We want to facilitate market-driven partnerships: Science and technology enable the creation of new products and services. These must then be tested, validated, and disseminated through market-based models. We also encourage applicants to develop market-driven partnerships that can help bring the innovation to scale. Securing Water for Food will facilitate partnerships between entrepreneurs, investors and funds, corporations, governments, NGOs, and others. This includes building business-to-business and business-to-customer relationships, as well as buyer/supplier and distribution connections.
- We want to leverage market-based financing: Funding provided by the Founding Partners under Securing Water for Food will be milestone-based. Additionally, all winners will be required to have market-based matching funds.
- We want to stimulate innovative financing to scale water technologies and businesses. We anticipate using investment bridges, credit guarantees, advanced market commitments, and other innovative mechanisms to support the commercialization of water generation, storage, salinity reduction, and more efficient end-use technologies in the food sector.
- We believe that scale doesn’t happen through financial support alone: Securing Water for Food is our fifth GCD. In no previous GCD have we found financial support to innovators to be enough. We have, therefore, built a robust, hands-on acceleration “track” into the design of Securing Water for Food. This will include a mix of hands-on acceleration work planning, one-on-one mentoring/coaching, facilitation of debt and equity financing, and facilitated participation in Investors’ Circles, marketplace presentations, trade shows, and technology fairs. Additionally, we anticipate providing financial support to business acceleration entities or brokers that will deliver technical assistance to water innovators.