03 March 2009

Changemakers Launches Competition for Agricultural Innovations

Ashoka's Changemakers announced the launch of "Cultivating Innovation: Solutions for Rural Communities," a new global, online competition to seek out the most innovative solutions in farming and rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and around the world.

The competition is funded as part of a grant awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Using the Changemakers' open-source online platform, the competition will be open to anyone striving to stimulate rural development and agriculture.

Today, three quarters of the world’s poorest people —- the one billion who live on $1 a day or less —- live in rural areas, and most rely on agriculture for their food and income. Many small farmers cannot grow enough food to sell or even eat. Innovative solutions such as those Ashoka is seeking offer hundreds of millions of the people the opportunity to overcome hunger and poverty.

Over the next two months, you and others from around the world can nominate people who are coming up with innovative solutions in farming and rural communities. You can also submit your own project.

Changemakers has a unique, open-source model where members of the community comment on and evaluate the initiatives entered in the competition. Entrants and nominators both can network with each other, as well as with media, academics, and thought leaders.

An expert panel of judges will narrow the entry pool to 10 to 15 finalists. Then the global Changemakers community will vote for three winners, who will each receive a USD $5000 award from Changemakers to fund their initiatives.

The distinguished panel features Roy Steiner, Senior Program Officer for Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gene Kahn, Global Sustainability Officer for General Mills, Beatrice Gakuba, CEO of Rwanda Flora, Suzana Padua, Founder of the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (Institute of Ecological Research), and Raj Patel, activist and author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System.

"The Changemakers community is an open, online forum for anyone who is passionate about social change to participate in a vibrant exchange of ideas and friendship," says Charlie Brown, Changemakers Executive Director. "This competition is the opportunity to expand our reach even further, into the rural areas of Africa and India, to work with those innovators who may or may not have online access."

Innovation can come from anywhere, according to Changemakers. They cite people like C.K. "Bablu" Ganguly, an Ashoka Fellow whose innovations have regenerated farmland and created jobs via organic farming and marketing cooperatives in southern India.

Or, people like Adrian Mukhebi, another Ashoka fellow who created a virtual trading floor via radio and SMS messaging to link thousands of farmers and buyers and sellers in Kenya. Ganguly and Mukhebi’s work not only helped to revitalize the local farming economies but also directly met many of their communities' education and health needs, in addition to empowering local women to actively participate in farming and business development.

The online competition will showcase innovative solutions, encouraging members to comment, network, and assist one another in making a difference. Nominations and submissions are welcomed until May 13.

For more information and to enter or nominate, check out: "Cultivating Innovation: Solutions for Rural Communities"

(Disclosure: The author was formerly VP of Global Development for Ashoka and part of the team that developed the partnership with Gates Foundation of which this competition is a part.)