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. 

For USAID, the most common mechanism for open innovation is a competition—such as a challenge or prize—to identify and co-create 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, NGOs, businesses, and others—we’ll collectively call them “innovators”—are invited to apply by describing and proposing solutions. 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 launch, prove, and accelerate their models. 

This is exciting territory, but it is also relatively 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 (MEL) 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 their approach.
  • 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

Four years into the project, the Catalyst team has:

  • Co-designed and launched seven open innovation competitions to help USAID and its partners identify and support 68 innovators working across a range of pressing development challenges and sectors. These competitions have awarded selected innovators $12 million in innovation financing.
  • 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. 

Identified and established a network of 25 specialized acceleration service providers ready to meet innovator needs across 12 acceleration service categories. Catalyst has provided targeted technical assistance to 15 DIV innovators to sustain and scale their innovations.

Catalyst-Supported Innovation Challenges

MujerProspera Challenge 

December 2021 - Present

In El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, women and girls often face critical barriers that influence and limit how they can support themselves and their families. Weak government institutions, widespread poverty, corruption, and violence result in sparse national and local policies to support women’s employment, agency, and entrepreneurship. 

The Catalyst team worked with USAID’s Gender Development team (GenDev) to design, launch, and manage the MujerProspera (WomanProsper) Challenge, a regional challenge to advance gender equality in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The challenge is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to address the root causes of irregular migration, and it seeks holistic and impactful solutions that advance women’s economic security, employment, and/or entrepreneurship. MujerProspera is looking for both innovative new approaches and to scale-up successful existing efforts to promote women’s agency, safety, and access to economic power; fair and stable long-term income; and labor protections in the formal and informal sectors. The MujerProspera Challenge anticipates making $3 million in grant awards in the spring of 2022.

RISE Challenge

August 2019 - Present

Gender-based violence (GBV) is estimated to affect more than one in three women worldwide. Deeply interlinked with natural resource access and control, GBV is also exacerbated in the context of environmental degradation and climate change.

The USAID Resilient, Inclusive & Sustainable Environments (RISE) Challenge, designed and implemented by Catalyst, supports organizations to innovatively adapt and implement approaches to address GBV in environmental programming. Catalyst worked closely with USAID’s Environment and GenDev teams to design and launch two calls for applications that received over 400 applications from 66 countries, with nine awards valued at $2 million. Winners are implementing projects in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Fiji, Kenya, Peru, Uganda, and Vietnam that address GBV in programs focused on climate change, conservation, forestry, and land tenure. 

USAID/Nigeria COVID-19 Food Security Challenge

April 2021 - Present

Nigeria is facing a food security crisis, compounded by the impacts of COVID-19 and its effects on the food value chain. The pandemic has significantly disrupted already fragile value chains across the country, including people’s ability to produce, process, and distribute food. 

To address this challenge, the Catalyst team worked with USAID/Nigeria to design, launch, and manage the COVID-19 Food Security Challenge. The Challenge focuses on youth-led and mid-stage companies that are already working in food production, processing, and distribution. The Challenge received 500 applications and selected 32 companies to receive awards totaling $4 million in funding and technical assistance. With Challenge funding, awardees are increasing food production and/or food security in 33 states in Nigeria. These partners are helping farmers and other food value chain actors to increase agricultural productivity and food security within the next year to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on Nigeria’s food system.

JuntosEsMejor (BetterTogether) Challenge

October 2019 - June 2022

Venezuela’s political, humanitarian, and economic crisis has led to severe shortages of food, electricity, medicine, water, and other basic necessities. The resulting outflow of Venezuelans to neighboring countries has had a growing social and economic impact on the region, including effects on public services, labor markets, community relations, and infrastructure.

Catalyst is the primary implementing partner to USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on the design and management of an innovation challenge to address the regional migration crisis. This challenge also included funding from USAID’s GenDev team to support women’s economic empowerment and address GBV. In 2019, Catalyst designed and launched the challenge, and from 2020 to early 2022, Catalyst managed a dynamic pipeline of innovations spanning ten countries in the region. Across this portfolio, Catalyst led due diligence and co-creation to build the strongest innovations possible, managed grant awards for innovators, led communications to source innovations and tell innovator stories, performed innovator diagnostics to inform acceleration and technical assistance, supported USAID and IDB through portfolio-level learning, and provided grantees with performance metric monitoring to adapt their innovations and improve their impact. Catalyst awarded and managed more than $5.5 million in innovation financing and acceleration.

In just a year and a half of implementation, JuntosEsMejor innovators impacted more than half a million people—including migrants, their families, and host communities—through education, economic growth, gender equality, and food security solutions.

Intelligent Forecasting Competition

July 2020 - July 2021

Contraceptive access is vital to safe motherhood, healthy families, and prosperous communities. In low- and middle-income countries around the world, health systems are often unable to accurately predict the quantity of contraceptives necessary for each health service delivery site, in part due to insufficient data, limited staff capacity, and inadequate systems. Accurate forecasting of contraceptive consumption can save lives, money, and time by ensuring health service delivery sites have what they need, when they need it.

To address this issue, 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 USAID/Côte d’Ivoire. This competition was designed to inspire the development of advanced data methods for more accurate forecasting of contraceptives at the last mile of the health system. Competitors submitted applications with advanced data models, demonstrating their capacity and experience in implementing supply chain strengthening activities in relevant operating contexts. Then, in late 2020, Catalyst led a co-creation process to pair modelers and local field implementers to create the strongest application for Côte d’Ivoire’s health system. Based on this co-creation process, the competition awarded a grant to Macro-Eyes to customize, pilot, and iteratively improve their model, which will be implemented at health service delivery sites in Côte d’Ivoire.

Water and Energy for Food Asia EDGE Prize

December 2019 - June 2020

Farmers are confronted with many challenges that negatively affect their food production and livelihoods, including growing weather variability, increased water table stress, rising energy costs, and decreasing soil productivity. Moving forward, farmers need new and innovative solutions that increase productivity while using water and energy more efficiently.

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 DigData Challenges

March 2019 - Present

The Catalyst project is partnering with Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Millenium Foundation Kosovo (MFK) to deploy open innovation to address three key constraints to Kosovo’s economic growth: poor air quality, an unreliable supply of electricity; and real and perceived weakness in rule of law, government accountability, and transparency. The Catalyst project facilitated the competition co-creation and design process, provided advisory support during the review and selection of winning applications, and provided technical assistance to awardees. 

Catalyst will continue to assist in mentoring the winning applicants during the implementation of their solutions.

Inclusive Health Access Prize

May 2019 - September 2019

Around the world, many health systems in low- and middle-income countries are under-resourced and over-burdened, leaving many people without access to quality basic health care services. 

Catalyst designed, launched, and managed the Inclusive Health Access Prize, in partnership with the USAID Global Health Bureau’s Office of Health Systems Strengthening. This prize recognized and incentivized work that demonstrates how integration and partnership between the public and private sectors expands access to affordable, accountable, and reliable health services for poor and vulnerable groups. The aim was also to celebrate and spur a broad range of approaches that are sustainable, scalable, and replicable. 

We received 386 applications from innovators around the world, and USAID funded five promising new solutions, including Cameroon, a health digital payments app in Senegal, and community outreach and telemedicine services for underserved populations in India.

Catalyst Team

Chelsea Keyser
Chief of Party, Catalyst

Email Chelsea

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