Jocalyn Clark is Executive Editor and Scientific Writing Specialist at icddr,b in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. She was previously a consultant at Grand Challenges Canada, a Senior Editor at the leading open access medical journal PLOS Medicine, and formerly Assistant Editor at BMJ (British Medical Journal). She teaches in the areas of global health, writing for publication and publication ethics.
A proposal development workshop in late 2013, funded by USAID with support from Grand Challenges Canada and NCIIA (a U.S.-based non-profit that funds and trains innovators to create successful, socially beneficial businesses), provided a unique opportunity to foster and strengthen emerging bold ideas that could have a big impact in global health. It built on a series of previous Xcelerator training programs.
Twenty-three innovators who had applied to a previous round of the Saving Lives at Birth innovation competition, representing 13 countries around the world, gathered in Nairobi for an “incubator” designed to nurture their ideas and plans for impact in global health.
We taught a four-part plan, and the materials related to these four steps are posted on Grand Challenges Canada’s Innovator Toolbox. These steps can be used when you first begin thinking about developing your grant or funding proposal, or if and when you “get stuck” trying to pull it all together. These steps may also be useful when a proposal is not funded and you want to revise, strengthen and resubmit it to another potential funder or investor.
1. Strategy Mapping
Step 1 involves strategy mapping – a simple process that enables you to rapidly convey your working hypothesis of how an idea will progress toward a solution. Strategy mapping takes place during what I call the “thinking phase” of your proposal development, ideally before you begin writing. My view is that the more time spent thinking about exactly what it is you want to do (and how you are going to do it), the less time you’ll struggle writing your proposal. NCIIA has a terrific introductory document to explain the strategy mapping process and its steps, and there is a good (if long) video to guide you. Strategy mapping takes you away from the computer to actually draw and depict your plan and process – always a good idea when trying to clearly and concisely identify and articulate the problem you want to solve.
2. Value Proposition
Step 2 is articulating your value proposition. The “value prop” is one of those jargony business terms that have been introduced into the global health environment but aren’t always well understood. (See our simple business glossary). It simply means the unique and differentiating feature of your idea and proposed solution. How is your idea novel? How is it better than others in the field? Think of yourself as a business providing a service in a competitive environment. To help you think through and clarify your unique selling points (whether your solution is a commercial or a public one), you can watch this video and/or complete this simple exercise.
3. Articulating a Path to Scale
Step 3 is planning your path to scale. Increasingly, funders of global health research and innovation are requiring applicants not just to have a bold and enterprising idea but also to show that their great idea can be “scaled”, i.e., to demonstrate that the solution you are testing now on a small scale can be applied to, taken up by and have impact in, a larger community. In fact, to achieve the kind of global impact and sustainability many innovators and funders seek, it’s vitally important to have a clear path to scale at the outset of your project. Thinking about this path to scale should take into account a variety of scientific, social and business factors: Who are your end users and payers? Is your innovation financially and socially sustainable? What partners do you need to get on board to be successful? What are the risks? How will you monitor and evaluate your progress and success? What is your exit strategy? Here you will find resources designed to help researchers understand what is meant by scaling, as well as easy tools to develop and communicate plans to scale your innovations.
4. Writing Your Proposal
Once the strategy, value proposition and plan for scale are mapped, the last step is to write the proposal. There is already much writing advice on Grand Challenges Canada’s proposal development resource. A new method I developed extends this writing advice and encourages you to develop “5 Key Statements”. These are the ‘bones’ of your proposal and writing them first (before the full proposal) provides you with a structure and outline for your grant proposal. It also provides a way to clearly and succinctly describe the main elements of your plan and ‘pitch’ for funding. The 5 Key Statements are: problem statement, need statement, process statement, impact statement and sustainability statement. Each is a single sentence with a verb. They align with the general sections of any funding proposal: background, objective, methods, outcomes and sustainability/scale-up. The bonus is that, when strung together, the five statements form a summary item (such as an abstract).
All the materials are posted now on Grand Challenges Canada’s proposal development resource, and are freely available for anyone to download and use.