Guest Author

Jo-Ann Osei-Twum was the Stars in Global Health summer student at Grand Challenges Canada. Jo-Ann is passionate about the basic sciences and community-based approaches to addressing health inequalities. Ashley Teo was this year’s Strategy and Operations summer student in Financial Innovations at Grand Challenges Canada. She is passionate about social inequality and global health. 

Global health challenges continue to disproportionately affect individuals in low- and middle-income countries. Solutions to these challenges will not easily be attained without novel approaches that promote self-reliance and economic growth. Innovation is a key mechanism for achieving economic growth and is similarly critical for tackling many global health issues. Grand Challenges Canada has been a catalyst for innovation, advocating for Integrated Innovation across a diverse range of global health challenges (Mental Health, noncommunicable disease, Point-of-Care Diagnostics, Maternal and Child Health, and health-related Agriculture).

As Grand Challenges Canada summer interns, we have had the privilege of reviewing funded projects in the Stars in Global Health (innovator-defined) portfolio. With time, trends began to emerge as to what made for a strong and successful proposal. Round 7 of the Stars in Global Health competition was recently announced and we thought it apt to share our insights with applicants. It is our hope that this blog will provide clarity on how to maximize the chances of a successful proposal by differentiating your application from the other hundreds being reviewed.

Here are our top tips for a strong Stars in Global Health proposal:

1.   Context, context, and CONTEXT. Put the global health challenge your proposal seeks to address in some context. It is important that reviewers and the public understand the burden of the challenge, both locally as well as globally. You should highlight the impact of your particular innovation (or project) on the targeted community. Also, make sure to emphasize the project’s scaling potential in terms of geography, cost, etc. (i.e., Can this innovation be similarly implemented in a neighbouring country?).

2.   Come again? While your idea may be the boldest one out there, if it is not communicated in an accessible manner to the general public then you risk leaving the reader questioning exactly what will be done. Be explicit about what will be done and how you will implement the project. Make sure a reader can understand what success at the end of your grant will look like (this is what we call your proof-of-concept). Secondly, ground your idea. If there is previous research that your idea builds upon – state it. There should be some scholarly merit to your idea.

3.   Be realistic about your impact. You should be realistic about the goals that you hope to achieve given the length of a Stars in Global Health grant. You should also clearly articulate how impact will be measured (i.e., number of women who will be screened per month). The Stars in Global Health program funds proof-of-concept grants that can be pragmatically achieved within a 12-18 month time frame. Make sure to set goals that are aligned with your project’s size and timeframe. If you anticipate that your project will take longer, you may want to consider other funding programs either at Grand Challenges Canada or other organizations.

4.  Not just any team. The Integrated Innovation approach is not limited to your bold idea but should also be reflected in the makeup of your project team. For example, implementation specialists have an important role to play in propelling an idea from a lab or office to a community setting. Similarly, for an innovation to achieve true scale, business and local context expertise is more often than not non-optional. Although you may have the intention to add to your team with time, a well-balanced team should be present from the onset of the project.

5.   Partnerships and community engagement are key. Global health work cannot be done in isolation. Make sure to highlight your project’s collaboration with partners in low- and middle-income countries (Bonus Tip: Consult Grand Challenges Canada’s countries of focus to ensure your implementation area is eligible for funding and also to understand our areas of focus). Authentic partnerships require time and strong working relationships cannot be built overnight. Grand Challenges Canada recognizes that individuals, who live day in and day out with these challenges are assets throughout the planning, implementation, and evaluation processes.

6.   But wait, what’s next? Great progress can be made if innovations are culturally appropriate, affordable, and accessible. Make sure to look beyond your proof-of-concept stage by considering what next steps are necessary for your innovation to achieve scale. You should be researching obstacles to success and also be active in identifying opportunities for scaling (i.e., commercialization of products/interventions). When considering scaling of an innovation, be sure to examine the landscape of the competitive market and emphasize how your innovation is a step ahead of competitors. Understanding your long-term strategy will be especially helpful for pursuing Phase II Transition-to-Scale funding (up to $1,000,000 CAD).

7.   Bonus tip – Uploading a video is a surprisingly powerful tool for communicating your bold idea. This 2-minute video allows you the unique opportunity to share details about your project that have not been covered in your written proposal. The structure of your video is also crucial. Two (2) minutes is a short amount of time; however, if information is pre-organized and clearly presented, videos can be extremely compelling during the review process. Make sure the video is appropriate and as professional as possible, from background music to images used.

We hope this has been helpful and we wish all Round 7 applicants good luck! For more information about preparing Grand Challenges Canada applications and grant writing in general, please check out our Proposal Development Resource page.

Follow Jo-Ann Osei-Twum on LinkedIn and Ashley TeoConnect on Twitter @teo_ashley. We encourage you to post your questions and comments about this blog post on our Facebook page Grand Challenges Canada and on twitter @gchallenges.