After several months of consultations and revisions, Grow Further has released its first grant announcement. The grant, which is open to agricultural innovators worldwide but mainly intended for scientists in developing countries, will fund research in the areas of adaptation to climate change, improvements in nutrition, and increases in smallholder farm income. We hope to offer two awards in our first cycle, with more coming.
We’re trying out a number of process innovations to make our grants stand out from most others in the field. Here are some examples:
First and perhaps most importantly, we’re not micro-managing.
We’re looking to source great ideas that researchers are excited about, not bog everyone down in detailed, and likely irrelevant, specifications. One researcher said that our application was 40% the length of one he recently filled out for a grant from a highly regarded technology company. Of course, there will be additional co-creation and due diligence for finalists, but we’re trying to keep the process as simple and client-oriented as possible.
Second, we’re rethinking the grant evaluation process, from peer review to judging.
Most grant funders either don’t bother with peer reviews or ask for written reviews from experts who take a notoriously long time. We’re going to try a different approach, interviewing peer reviewers to speed up the process (invitation emails will say, ‘if you agree to review this proposal, please click on our calendar to set up a call’).
At most grant funders, judging falls to either staff members with no skin in the game (i.e., not donors themselves and often bureaucratically distant from the source of funds, which might be taxpayers in a foreign country or a deceased businessperson) or to a family at smaller private foundations. We think we can do better by engaging a diverse group of donors in the judging process.
Third, we’re using friendly language in the application.
We’re not asking applicants to pay attention to American versus British spelling or other things that waste time and don’t reveal anything about the quality of their ideas.
We’ve thought carefully about where we can best contribute relative to the private sector, government, and private foundations, and incorporated that into the grant announcement. We’re looking to add value to society by supporting projects that have been overlooked for any number of possible reasons (or no good reason at all), including where
- The private sector sees difficulties protecting intellectual property.
- Government sees too much risk or international aid agencies see limited geopolitical importance.
- Private foundations see it as too small to evaluate at reasonable cost or outside of their specific strategy.
Not every project will go as intended. But we think it’s time to move forward and begin our grant programs. As one researcher told us, ‘This is so well designed compared to other paperwork I have to do that I don’t really have any comments. Go ahead and make it a little more complicated if you want.’
— Grow Further