Project Profile

Catalyst: Using Open Innovation to Drive Bold New Solutions

Project Name



USAID U.S. Global Development Lab’s Center for Development Innovation (Lab/CDI)

Prime Contractor


Implementing Partners

The Kaizen Company, Moonshot Global, Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI)



Time Period

August 2018 – September 2023


Around the world and across every major development challenge – from food security to women’s empowerment – open innovation is emerging as an important tool for sourcing and launching bold new solutions. In the USAID context, open innovation means competitions such as challenges, and prizes that identify and co-create promising new solutions to persistent and/or complex development problems.

Here’s how it (typically) works: Each open innovation competition outlines a broad – or sometimes very specific – problem, often drawing on human-centered design. This problem is then posed to the global community to crowdsource bright new ideas, tools, and approaches. Global and local entrepreneurs, academics, civil society organizations, businesses, and others – we’ll collectively call them “innovators” – are invited to apply by describing and proposing solutions and why they think their solutions will work. The best innovations with the most promising models for scale, impact, and sustainability are selected. Innovators receive funding, other incentives, and often technical assistance to accelerate their work and help them launch, pilot, prove, or scale their new solutions.

This is exciting territory, but it is also new. The development field is still learning how best to deploy open innovation for lasting impact.


Resonance leads the USAID Catalyst project to enhance and spread the use of open innovation across the Agency’s global portfolio. We are working with USAID to identify and implement best practices for finding innovators, evaluating their concepts and business models, and then financing and accelerating their impact. Open Innovation can also help USAID engage new private sector partners in its development activities around the world.

Our services:

  • Catalyst designs, launches, and manages new open innovation competitions for USAID. Our team facilitates co-creation sessions with USAID and partners to articulate competition objectives and outline evaluation and eligibility criteria. We plan communications and outreach – building and tapping relevant networks to reach a large and diverse pool of innovators – to better source high-quality applications. We then launch the competition, oversee the innovator evaluation process, and manage innovator grants and awards.
  • We connect innovators to a range of specialized acceleration services, to help them address key ecosystem, organizational, or business challenges at each stage of their establishment, growth, and scale;
  • We design or improve monitoring, evaluation, and learning within innovation programming, including designing monitoring plans, supporting data collection, conducting research into innovator impact and open innovation best practices and helping innovators apply data to adapt and improve their impact;
  • We craft effective communication and outreach campaigns that help USAID source innovators in target countries and sectors; raise awareness with key stakeholders and potential partners; and share USAID’s innovation impact story with the broader development community.

Select Results

As the project enters Year 3, the Catalyst Team has:

  • Co-designed and launched six Open Innovation competitions to help USAID and its partners identify and support hundreds of innovators working across a range of pressing development challenges and sectors, awarding selected innovators more than $6.5 million in innovation financing.
  • Identified and established a network of 25 specialized acceleration service providers ready to meet innovator needs across 12 acceleration service categories.
  • Provided key support to relaunch the USAID Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) program, one of the first and largest publicly funded global social impact investing funds. Catalyst has improved outreach, sourcing, and evaluation of DIV innovators; created an updated key performance indicator framework to monitor innovator impact and allow for historic data analysis; and built a backend platform to house and manage innovator data. In 2020, Catalyst completed a comprehensive assessment and analysis of the landscape of public and private impact investors to help DIV identify new opportunities for institutional partnerships.
  • Designed and applied a rapid sourcing platform for acceleration support for Catalyst-led open innovation competitions, including 10 DIV innovators. Acceleration services included market identification to scale a maternal health technology; social marketing and sales skills for three social enterprises; and technical specifications for a new processing plant for a sanitation social enterprise.

Catalyst-Supported Innovation Challenges

BetterTogether Challenge

For USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank, Catalyst is the primary implementing partner for the design and management of an innovation challenge to address the regional migration crisis resulting from the political and economic turmoil in Venezuela. In 2019, Catalyst designed and launched the Challenge. In 2020, Catalyst is managing a dynamic pipeline of innovations from across 10 countries in the region. Across this portfolio, Catalyst leads due-diligence and co-creation to build the strongest innovations possible, manages grant awards for innovators, leads communications to source innovations and tell innovator stories, performs innovator diagnostics to inform acceleration and technical assistance, and supports USAID and IDB through portfolio-level learning, and provides grantees with performance metric monitoring and applications to adapt their innovations and improve their impact. Catalyst will award and manage more than $5.5 million in innovation financing and acceleration.

The RISE Challenge

For USAID’s Environment Gender Development team (E3/GenDev), Catalyst designed, launched, and managed the RISE challenge, seeking innovative solutions and models for preventing and responding to gender-based violence in environmental development programming. The RISE Challenge made seven awards – including funding innovations in Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Fiji. In 2020, based on the success of the first-round challenge, Catalyst launched a second-round competition, sourcing hundreds of unique, high-quality innovation applications from 49 countries. Catalyst is providing grantees organizational support, and Catalyst regularly convenes innovators for learning sessions to share their challenges and successes pursuing impact in the COVID-19 pandemic context. The RISE Challenge will award more than $1.2m in innovation financing.

Intelligent Forecasting Prize and Field Implementation Grant

Catalyst led the design of a unique hybrid open innovation competition with the Contraceptive Security and Logistics team at the USAID Bureau for Global Health and the USAID mission in Cote d’Ivoire. This competition is designed to inspire the development of advanced data methods for more accurate forecasting of contraceptives at the last mile of the health system. Competitors have submitted applications with advanced data models, demonstrating their capacity and experience in implementing supply chain strengthening activities in relevant operating contexts. In late 2020, Catalyst will lead a co-creation process to help modelers and field implementers partner to create the strongest application for selection and implementation in the Cote d’Ivoire health system.

Water and Energy for Food ASIA Edge Prize

The Catalyst project supported the design, planning, and execution of the Asia Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy (EDGE) Ag-Energy Prize which identified business owners and entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia with game-changing innovations operating at the nexus of renewable energy and agriculture. The prize competition identified 15 innovators who joined a week-long co-creation series, adapted for remote participation due to COVID-19, culminating in pitches before an expert investor panel. The competition awarded prizes to three innovators from Cambodia and Myanmar. Catalyst then designed a follow-on competition for the other short-listed competitors to provide multi-media marketing support to help them adapt and succeed as social enterprises in an evolving market landscape in the midst of a global pandemic.  

Kosovo Open Data Challenge on Air Quality and the Energy Use Prize

For the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Kosovo team, Catalyst is supporting the design and launch of two Challenges intended to improve access to and use of open data in sectors key to the economy: the Kosovo Open Data Challenge on Air Quality and an Energy Use Prize. As of February 2020, the Air Quality Challenge is evaluating innovator applications and will make awards in the coming months.  The Energy Use Prize began design processes in early 2020 and will launch later in the year.

Inclusive Health Access Prize

Catalyst designed, launched, and managed the Inclusive Health Access Prize, in partnership with USAID’s Global Health Bureau’s Office of Health Systems Strengthening. We received 386 applications from innovators around the world, and USAID is now funding five promising new solutions, including an online blood bank in Cameroon, a health digital payments app in Senegal, and community outreach and telemedicine services for underserved populations in India.


Chelsea Keyser
Chief of Party, Catalyst

Email Chelsea

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