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5 Questions for...Antony Bugg-Levine, Rockefeller Foundation

February 25, 2010

Bugglevine Antony Bugg-Levine is managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation's impact investing initiative and an associate adjunct professor at Columbia Business School. Prior to joining the foundation, he served as country director for TechnoServe in Nairobi, Kenya, and was a consultant with McKinsey &Co. working in the areas of financial services and health care. A native of South Africa, he served in the late 1990s as communications director for the South African Human Rights Commission and as a speechwriter and media strategist for South Africa's ruling African National Congress party.

Philanthropy News Digest: What is the GlobalGiveback Innovation Challenge?

Antony Bugg-Levine: The GlobalGiveback Innovation Challenge is a partnership between GlobalGiving, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Innocentive to give five nonprofit organizations access to Innocentive's network of solvers. It's the second time the Rockefeller Foundation has partnered with Innocentive. The first was in 2006, when we supported ten challenges on the Innocentive platform and achieved an 80 percent success rate in finding solutions to those challenges. Indeed, one of the most successful challenges to come out of our partnership was posted by SunNight Solar, which was seeking to improve the design of a self-contained solar flashlight that could also light a room. The challenge was ultimately solved by an engineer in New Zealand, and the parts for the flashlight were manufactured by a company in China. Today, the flashlight is being successfully distributed and used in Africa, the Gaza Strip, and other parts of the developing world. After that success, the foundation decided to continue to support our partnership with Innocentive.

PND: How does crowdsourcing figure into this new challenge?

ABL: In three different ways. First, GlobalGiving used crowdsourcing to reach out to their eight hundred project leaders in eighty countries for ideas about potential challenges. GlobalGiving then selected five challenges to move forward by promoting them to the Innocentive network. Second, Innocentive is posting those challenges for three months and inviting its network of hundreds of thousands of experts to crowdsource solutions to the challenges. With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, individual challenge solvers will get cash rewards of up to $40,000 each for a winning solution. Finally, after the solution winners are selected, GlobalGiving will once again use crowdsourcing to raise funds for the implementation of the winning designs or methods.

The focus on crowdsourcing is part of a broader initiative at the foundation to support the application of cutting-edge innovation processes to the solving of social problems. In addition to working with Innocentive, we have also funded the expansion of Ashoka's Changemakers collaborative competition model, have worked with the firm IDEO to apply their design approach to problems of poverty, and have supported efforts by the Rural Innovation Network in India to identify innovations developed by poor people in rural India that can be usefully scaled up.

PND: The latest competition involves five water-related challenges. Can you tell us a little bit about them and how they were chosen?

ABL: As I mentioned, GlobalGiving used crowdsourcing to reach out to its project leaders for potential challenge ideas. Interestingly, most of the issues that met the selection criteria were water-related and the final five were selected and posted on Innocentive. The first was posted by the EDGE Project and involves the development of an easy-to-use method that purifies water from Lake Victoria so it's safe to drink; the second, posted by the Fundación SODIS, seeks an indicator able to give a visual sign that a quantity of water has been exposed to enough sunlight or UV light to disinfect it; the third, posted by Rainwater for Humanity, seeks the development of a low-cost rainwater harvesting storage tank for use in wetland regions in India; the fourth, posted by Green Empowerment, involves the development of a small-scale river turbine that can be used on the rivers of the Peruvian jungle to electrify villages, schools, and medical centers; and the fifth, posted by Intermediate Technology Development Group, seeks an improved water tank that more efficiently uses titanium oxide nano-particles to sterilize drinking water.

PND: In terms of coming up with solutions, are the specific challenges deadline-driven or open-ended?

ABL: The challenges will remain on the Innocentive network for three months, which is the time frame Innocentive sets for most of its challenges. If the network fails to come up with a solution in that amount of time, it often means the network will not be able to find a solution at all.

PND: What are the broader implications of crowdsourcing and this initiative for the work of large private foundations?

ABL: We understand we don't have all the answers to some of the world's most challenging questions or the capability to reach out to all the people who may be able to solve them. As the world becomes ever more connected, there is an unprecedented opportunity to capture that untapped creativity on a global basis. That's why the Rockefeller Foundation has invested in our Advancing Innovation Processes to Solve Social Problems initiative to explore if and how new innovation approaches such as crowdsourcing can be applied in the development world. Our partnership with Innocentive and GlobalGiving allows us to bring these new innovation techniques to the nonprofit world directly.

Emily Robbins
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