Can innovation prizes help support adaptation to climate change?

9th March 2016
This is one of the questions the DFID-funded Ideas to Impact programme is trying to answer. The programme is seeking to find new ways of supporting development projects across three thematic areas: water and sanitation, energy access and climate change adaptation. The initiative aims to test whether prizes can be designed to achieve significant benefits in particular for the poorest and most marginalised groups. In each theme, innovation prizes will be designed and launched with national partners, with the intention to stimulate new ideas and solutions for longstanding challenges. The programme defines an innovation prize as a financial incentive that induces change through competition. These prizes are not seen as a replacement for grants. Rather, they are meant to complement grant funding.

Rishi-Bandopadhay-FlickrAny bright ideas for climate adaptation?

Innovation prizes for adaptation are largely untested in a development context. They could represent a new way of supporting successful climate change adaptation and attract new types of funding. These prizes will assess whether innovation prizes incentivise new action to support adaptation goals. This goes beyond recognition prizes i.e. prizes that rewards past achievement. At best, we believe, they could help catalyse new solutions in ways that other funding mechanisms cannot. A particular aim is to see whether and how they can help reach poor social groups that fall outside conventional funding mechanisms.

What potential could adaptation prizes have?

Leverage more adaptation funding: With prizes growing in popularity among businesses, financial foundations, and public sector donors, this would be a considerable benefit to adaptation.

Promote diversity to tackle complexity: Adaptation is a complex challenge, requiring solutions tailored to specific contexts. Different actors, like innovators, local community and the private sector, will interact, bringing together diverse ideas for solutions.

Put local-level actors in the lead: Prizes may offer opportunities to redefine who makes adaptation investment decisions.
Raising awareness and Influencing policy: As high profile and engaging events, prizes are able to capture the attention of decision makers and the media. This could help rally support for effective adaptation measures.

Build communities of practice: Adaptation is a cross-sectoral issue and requires collaborative action.

V. Atakos - flickr

Overcoming the challenges ahead

However, this is uncharted territory, and the potentials as outlined above remain largely untested. We have identified several challenges that set out some critical considerations that need to be in place if adaptation prizes are to be feasible as a truly pro-poor funding mechanism. We also want to ensure that these prizes do not have unintended negative consequences.

Some of the key challenges include:

Unequal demands and pressures: As a form of Payment by Results (PbR), prizes tend to transfer risk from sponsors to prize entrants. We are exploring possible ways of overcoming this challenge by minimising the investments needed to participate, targeting prize criteria particularly at the poorest and most vulnerable, and providing structural support on how to access additional funding.

Prizes favouring existing dominant players: Growth in prizes is being driven by powerful narratives which may not favour those with greatest adaptation need. By encouraging inclusive participation processes within the prize design process, such as meetings at county levels in Kenya, we hope that this will help engage more marginalised people and intermediaries that work with them.

Promoting ‘quick fixes’ over complex challenges: Finding long term adaptation solutions is not merely about tweaking existing technologies and ways of working; there is also a need to understand and address underlying social, cultural and political drivers of vulnerability.

Testing prizes in the real world context

We are testing the adaptation prizes in Kenya and Nepal over 2015-2018. The focus in Kenya will be on climate information. A large amount of climate information is available, but often not accessible or usable in formats that suits the poorest. We want to explore prizes as a way of strengthening the adaptive capacity of poor and vulnerable groups in Kenya, by putting their needs for climate information at the forefront.

The “Wazo” (idea) prize is the first of a series of prizes to be awarded in Kenya over the next three years. The prize competition is open to individuals and organisations that can demonstrate how their idea can make a positive impact in Kenya. The prize will close on 7th February 2016. In March 2016, the top fifteen ideas will be awarded cash prizes. The Wazo prize has a particular focus on the recognition, showcasing, and publicity of novel ideas and actors in the area of climate information.

For further information about the prize, eligibility criteria and how to apply, visit or contact: Nicki Spence, Prize Manager,

In Nepal, the focus will be on scaling up adaptation innovation systems. It is clear that there are skills and technologies that are used by people to cope with and adapt to climate related shocks and stressors. However, there are many barriers to scaling up these ideas and practices. By supporting the capacity of the poor, in the face of increased uncertainties, prizes will be awarded to organisations or partnerships with models for strengthening adaptation innovation capabilities that are sustainable and replicable in other parts of the country. The first prize will be launched in early 2016.

Learning and Reflections

There is an exciting road ahead over the next three years as these prizes are launched. By participating in this research programme, we will build an evidence base of whether and how we should be investing in innovation prizes as a way of supporting adaptation to climate change, especially to engage the poorest and most vulnerable actors and groups.

Image credits: Rishi Bandopadhay | Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) / Gates Foundation | Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)