In times of global recession and austerity, everyone naturally becomes increasingly aware of how money is spent and where it comes from. As agents often acting in between those with financial resources and those without, the international development sector should be particularly aware that the money we spend belongs both to those who give it to us, meaning we should spend it efficiently and those for whom that money is provided, meaning we should spend it effectively.
One way of ensuring resources go as far as possible and are used in the most effective way is to ensure collaboration between all those involved in development: NGOs, academic institutions, governments and the private sector. We recognise that development is complex, involving social, economic, behavioural, environmental, political and other factors and that no one actor or sector can have the answers. For Sightsavers, as an example, this means admitting that on our own we cannot provide an end to avoidable blindness, nor equality of opportunity for all disabled people. Only by working with others, and by demonstrating effective approaches that others can take up, can these ambitious goals be realised.
With this in mind Sightsavers, using funds provided by the UK government, is seeking to broaden its approach to finding solutions to some of the barriers we face: from supporting health systems to treat non-communicable diseases such as glaucoma, to tackling the challenge of how children with disabilities can receive a quality education in low-income countries. We are asking for help.
This week, we launched the Sightsavers Innovation Fund. We are reaching out to the global community to generate innovative solutions to the challenges we face. Using a mix of internal and external expertise, and providing the winning initiatives with up to £75,000 each to test their proposed solutions, we are hoping to provide a rapid boost to learning in our areas of interest. All results, positive and negative, will be shared as widely as possible within the development sector as well as using them to inform Sightsavers' own programmes.
This initiative encapsulates exactly what innovation means to me; working with others to find solutions to existing or new problems in the sectors where we work - and then putting those solutions into practice, testing them and sharing the results as widely as possible. While there is an element of competition in the selection process, the emphasis is on collaboration around specific developmental goals.
It's important to note that we know each innovation by itself may not change the world for the better. Innovative solutions might fail, or cause effects we wouldn't want to see. That makes it all the more important that this programme is as transparent as it can be, sharing the positive as well as negative results found as far as is possible.
It's also important to note that innovation isn't about high-tech solutions; it may include using old solutions in a new way, or at a different scale. A good example might be wind-power. We talk about wind turbines in the UK a lot (good and bad) - but although the turbines are new, the concept isn't - take a look at the windmill. Or take Zithromax® - a treatment invented for de-worming cattle, now donated for the global trachoma programme and preventing millions from potentially going blind from the neglected tropical disease (NTD) trachoma.
Watch this space and hopefully by the end of 2013, there will be some great tales to tell, experiences to share and above all, some concrete steps forward in our mission to eliminate avoidable blindness and promote equality of opportunity for disabled people.
For more information about the Sightsavers Innovation Fund, and how to apply, visit www.sightsavers.org/innovationfund