We received applications from every continent except Antarctica, approximately 400 complete in total. There were a lot of fascinating ideas, from mobile apps and edible insect farms, to addressing neglected farmer concerns like rodents. Many applicants had clearly put a lot of time into their application. We’re focused on reading applications rather than compiling data, so the following discussion is based on a random sample of 100 applications.
Many proposals are interdisciplinary and difficult to categorize, but about 80% could be classified as agronomy and agroecology, horticulture, or animal science, with smaller numbers in agricultural engineering and aquaculture. As we expected, given the applied and short-term nature of the grant, there are few projects in crop and livestock breeding and almost none in more basic science fields like crop molecular biology or soil geology. One surprise is that we received hardly any proposals in veterinary medicine.
Although there appears to be strong applications in almost every field, considering the number of applications and the time it takes to both prepare and evaluate them, we may limit future grant announcements to specific fields.
Type of organization
Applicants are almost exactly evenly split between those from universities, research institutes, other nonprofit organizations, and private companies. In some cases, the type of applicant is difficult to determine from the application (e.g., in countries where nonprofit organizations commonly register as for-profit entities), and there are many collaborative projects between different types of organizations. There are a few applications from high-income countries and from organizations registered under international law (such as CGIAR centers), but about 95% are from organizations in low to middle income countries registered under national or subnational law.
On average, applications from universities and research institutes appear to be a bit stronger than those from nonprofit organizations and private companies, but there are many great applications in every category and each application is being evaluated individually.
Seventy-five of the 100 sampled applications were from sub-Saharan Africa, including 42 from East Africa and 30 from West Africa. The top 5 represented countries were Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, India, and Ghana and Ethiopia (tied), which together accounted for 54 of the 100 applications. There were 11 from South Asia and 5 from Southeast Asia, with only 2 from Latin America and none in the sample from China.
Lower and lower-middle income countries with a high fraction of the population engaged in smallholder farming and facing food insecurity are clearly over-represented in the applicant pool, which is exactly what we were hoping for. Similarly, as a privately funded organization we’re happy to see that most applications are from countries that are relatively stable politically, which reduces certain project risks–as opposed to from strategically important countries like Afghanistan that often attract a disproportionate share of official development assistance.
However, the applicant pool also indicates a risk of perpetuating certain biases in international development.
First, 78 of the 100 sampled applications are from countries where English is either an official or a de facto working language (Ethiopia being an example of the latter). We offered the option of submitting applications in several other languages, but very few took this option, in part because the application form itself was in English. In future grant announcements, unless we make a conscious decision to focus on certain Anglophone countries, we plan to provide application forms and publicity in other languages.
Second, there are more applications per capita from small countries than from large countries. Economists have documented a strong negative correlation between population and development assistance received per capita, and hypothesized that it results from a variety of factors, including the share of international trade in the economy and possibly also a desire for donors to buy influence in government or votes in the United Nations.
We’re not interested in buying influence and view governments as partners rather than obstacles. As such, all else being equal (which it rarely is), we’d rather work in a large country where there are more people who might benefit from a good idea. Perhaps even more importantly, diaspora populations, often overlooked in international development, play a key role in our model, and larger countries are often the source of larger diasporas. As a practical matter, idiosyncratic factors will dominate until we have a large grant portfolio, but we do plan to make a bigger effort to publicize our grants in large countries in future grant announcements.
Timing of submission
On a less serious note, if you struggled to meet the deadline, you were not alone! The median application arrived 32 hours and 13 minutes before the deadline, and the peak hour was 23:00-23:59 East Africa Time on the date of the deadline (11 hours earlier than the actual deadline based on a different timezone). We can only imagine how much effort everyone put in, and hope to be helpful to as many applicants as possible even if we’re not able to fund your ideas or do so right away.