Americans of all professional backgrounds contribute to science all the time, from donating to medical research to helping to spot birds or distant galaxies. Fundraisers for cancer or heart disease research take place in small towns on a regular basis. Food banks and even international food aid have similarly strong grassroots support.
But what about agricultural research–the future of food security? Individual donors and volunteers have long had no way to get involved. And agricultural scientists looking for funding, particularly in developing countries, have few options but to respond to detailed requests for proposals that often reflect Western agendas more than local conditions.
Grow Further was founded to connect people and ideas for a food-secure future. We ask agricultural researchers in developing countries to send us their best ideas without telling them which contractor to engage or even which crop to work on. We send them to technical experts for comment and then put them before our donor-members, who get to meet the scientists as well as reading their proposals.
Researchers, meet the donors
On July 11, we mobilized the modern miracle of internet video conferencing to connect agricultural researchers working thousands of miles away with Grow Further’s donor members in North America. The research teams were there to give presentations outlining their concepts directly to the people who would be funding them, our members. Two presentations were delivered that day representing two research projects that will likely be awarded our first grants, pending more due diligence and approvals by our board.
We haven’t yet announced which two projects made it almost to the finish line. What we can say is that the presentations were delivered from grant applicants’ offices in sub-Saharan Africa. We can also say that this experiment in connecting individual donors with would-be grant recipients went well, even better than we expected.
No glitches, and more to come
For starters, the technology worked without too much fuss. The presentations could be seen and heard clearly, and none complained that they couldn’t understand the details. Our management team was present, as well, but it was the donor members who led the program. They were there to get a better sense of how their money would likely be spent, and they asked important and interesting questions that challenged the presenters to better demonstrate why their concepts and research plans deserved Grow Further’s support. The researchers fielded their questions deftly and to everyone’s satisfaction, and both presentations were completed on time and on schedule.
This is just the beginning of our journey. There will be more calls for proposals, more applications for Grow Further grants, application reviews, rounds or peer reviews, and more presentations from researchers delivered directly to donor members. This ability to engage interested individuals and introduce them directly to who their money will eventually support, and from anywhere in the world, is “a really special opportunity made possible by recent technology,” as our founder and CEO Peter Kelly said after the first presentation.
Once we finalize the recipients of the first grants, we will have a bigger announcement, so stay tuned.
— Grow Further
Photo credit: A smallholder farmer growing vegetables in Laos. Asian Development Bank, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).