Successful innovation is not assuming you understand somebody else's journey until you've walked in their shoes

Posted on: 21/08/2019

Projects improving the lives of people living in lower income countries and emerging economies.


There are many examples of products or services which fail because there is a poor understanding of the context or market into which they are deployed. That risk is exacerbated when the market is overseas and the customers, cultures and conditions affecting the uptake of your offer are further away and the subtleties influencing their choices less familiar to you.

Through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), Innovate UK will invest up to £9.3 million in innovation projects. The aim of this competition is to support demonstration-stage projects that have the potential to improve lives of people living in lower income countries and emerging economies.

It will support projects that address one or more of the global societal challenges recognised as the UN Sustainable Development Goals through development of innovative, market-creating products and services. These projects should ultimately lead to the deployment of those products or services within those countries.

Importantly, this is a two-phase competition. Phase 1 places emphasis on exploring people’s needs and the cultural appropriateness of potential solutions through using human-centred design. A successful sub-set of phase 1 projects will be invited to apply for phase 2 where a larger grant is available to develop the demonstrators validated in phase 1.

Let’s take one of those Sustainable Development Goals, improving healthcare and wellbeing. Solving what is perceived as ‚Äòthe last mile‚Äô problem of delivering healthcare might be better solved by fully understanding the first mile ‚Äì that is the front end of people‚Äôs engagement with it. In healthcare, the last mile could be considered the link between users and the adoption of healthcare services, goods, and organisations. This last mile is as simple as a ride to the clinic or as complex as the smooth exchange of your personally generated healthcare data with providers. What this means is that often in low-income contexts, the last mile problem is not a technological problem, but instead a misunderstanding of the cultural context or cultural norms.

Company Case Studies

The GCRF will fund companies to undertake this kind of human-centred exploration activity directly in the markets in which they seek to operate. There are plenty of examples of how companies have benefitted from this type of exploration, but lets highlight two companies, BuffaloGrid and ATBN, which both demonstrate how insights generated in developing countries through early stage exploration have caused them to refine their offers and avoided launching a flawed concept into the market. Read their stories here: BuffaloGrid ATBN. Both companies were supported by Innovate UK through the Design Foundations competition.

GCRF Briefing Events

If you want to hear more about this opportunity, a briefing event for the GCRF Demonstrate Impact Competition on Good Health and Well Being / Clean Water & Sanitation will take place in Edinburgh on 12th September. If you can’t attend, register for the webinar.

There are other briefings around the UK covering other SD goals in the first half of September.  More details can be found here.

Share this article


Connect with Innovate UK Business Connect

Join Innovate UK Business Connect's mailing list to receive updates on funding opportunities, events and to access Innovate UK Business Connect's deep expertise. Please check your email to confirm your subscription and select your area(s) of interest.