In 2011, Sarah Fathallah, a consultant in Washington DC shared an idea to improve the health of low-income communities with no healthcare infrastructure on She could not have known at the time, but months later, this idea would be picked up by a team of doctors and development experts in Caldas, Colombia and brought to life to improve the lives of the people there, who are made up of 26% living in extreme poverty. Working with Grameen Caldas this entrepreneurial team refined the idea, with support from the global OpenIDEO community, got funded, and launched Bive, a social business providing affordable, quality and expedient healthcare services to low-income communities. Now, three years later, Bive serves 1,300 users with 42 different health related services.

Sarah is part of the global community on OpenIDEO who regularly take part in open innovation challenges to help tackle social and environmental issues. The community is now made-up of over 50,000 individuals from 185 countries, who come from a diverse range of backgrounds and skillsets – designers, social entrepreneurs, educators and consultants amongst other passionate collaborators.

In the time the site has been live, this community, which is open for anyone to join, has helped impact a range of different global issues. The OpenIDEO community’s ideas and actions have helped a team of students at Stanford increase the US national bone marrow registry by 115,000 new potential donors to help those suffering from Leukaemia.– one patient’s life was saved because of this work. The community has also helped design an app called The Panic Button for Amnesty International, which helps those at risk of being illegally detained. In other challenges, each addressing a specific issue and sponsored by a partner organisation, the community has addressed mass atrocity, lack of sanitation and disposal of electronic waste, to name a few and has seen similar success.

I work for IDEO, and when we started OpenIDEO we wanted to create a place where people with a wide range of backgrounds and skills could collaborate on challenges for social good. Recently we wanted to help the community create greater impact, so we teamed up with IDEO’s non-profit, and with the support of DFID, have started the Amplify Program.  Over the next five years, we will run ten challenges focused on a different international development issue, and open them up to everyone to take part. We aim to innovate the way international development is done by developing a participatory model. For the first time in OpenIDEO’s history we’ll offer grant funding and design support to  ideas that successfully make it through the process, plus we’ll be working with local beneficiaries to bring their voice to the platform, understand their needs, what’s already been tried, and to attract existing NGOs and entrepreneurs to join the process.

How do open innovation challenges work on OpenIDEO?

We start with a big question, something to get everyone focusing their energies on, and we launch the first of several phases, each one running for a few weeks at a time. The first of these is the Research phase, which is all about learning before jumping to ideas. In this phase we share existing solutions, interview end-beneficiaries, share personal stories, and look at adjacent fields for analogous research. Next comes the really creative part: the Ideas phase, where anyone can submit solutions to the problem, comment, and build upon each other’s contributions – and even form teams. Next, the most promising ideas move forwards to the Refinement phase, prototyping and end-beneficiary feedback is sought, and finally the most successful ideas are shortlisted and from that list, grants will be given, along with design support to secure real world impact.

The first Amplify challenge: Women’s & Girls’ safety

This month sees the launch of the first of these challenges and the question this time is How might we make low-income urban areas safer and more empowering for women and girls?. Although anyone can join the challenge, we’re specifically looking for anyone working in the international development space to participate, and here are a few reasons to contribute to the process:

  • We’re looking for existing ideas not just new ones – your projects could benefit from funding and design support
  • Raise awareness of your own work
  • Find new collaborators and partners from unusual sources
  • Find new ideas and inspiration for your work
  • Get feedback on your work and ideas

We’re currently in the Research phase. At this stage we are looking for existing approaches, personal stories and your in-depth understanding of the social sector to increase our collective understanding of the problem. Whether you’re working in a space relevant to women’s and girls’ safety or just want to check out this new approach to increasing collaboration in international development, you can join the challenge at

Also check out the video below to learn more about this challenge:

Introducing OpenIDEO’s Women’s Safety Challenge from IDEO on Vimeo.