Vodafone Americas Foundation Looking for Next Examples of Mobile for Good

Each year, the winners of the Wireless Innovation Project are presented with unique award to mark the occasion, a hand-woven basket made of recycled telephone cable wire from South Africa. This basket symbolizes how far the telecommunications industry has come—from wired to wireless. Baskets are provided by Bridge for Africa
Each year, the winners of the Wireless Innovation Project are presented with unique award to mark the occasion, a hand-woven basket made of recycled telephone cable wire from South Africa. This basket symbolizes how far the telecommunications industry has come—from wired to wireless. Baskets are provided by Bridge for Africa

The Vodafone Americas Foundation recently launched the Wireless Innovation Project (WIP), a contest to “promote innovation and increase the development of mobile and wireless technology for a better world.”

The contest provides up to $600,000 in awards to support projects at the intersection of wireless innovation and solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. To find out more, I sat down with Andrew Dunnett, Head of Vodafone Group Foundation and Sustainability.

Though the Vodafone Foundation has been around for 23 years and operates in 28 countries worldwide, it aims for local impact. The global foundation directs its giving through the local foundations in order to ensure that it meets local needs. This arrangement allows for local ownership and authenticity.

Most of the Vodafone Foundation’s worldwide support goes to “Mobile for Good” programs, projects that utilize mobile technology to make the world a better place. “When we combine a catalytic grant with our expertise, our knowledge and our capabilities, we can make a huge difference.” These projects, 72 percent of the 250 current projects, utilize Vodafone’s new and existing mobile technology for good.

For example, one key project in Europe is the TecSOS project which is a handset for women at risk of domestic violence. The handset opens a line to the police at the push of a button. The police can tell who the user is, where she is and can hear everything going on in her environment through an enhanced microphone. The handsets have been used by over 22,386 women across five European countries. “We’ve moved away from the checkbook charity model into a catalytic grantmaking model.” The Wireless Innovation Project is another great example.

What is the Wireless Innovation Project all about?

The Wireless Innovation Project was started by Vodafone Americas Foundation. The WIP has been running for the past six years and is in part a response to Vodafone Americas Foundation’s shifting focus to targeted mobile projects and Mobile for Good. The project is designed to assist academic institutes and NGOs that have an active project that’s either a new technology or a new application of an existing technology to solve a social or environmental problem.

Grants are offered to projects that need a capital infusion to get to the next level. WIP winners are selected for awards of $100,000, $200,000, and $300,000. Vodafone Americas Foundation has given away over $2 million over the course of the six years of the project. The campaign has been so successful that it’s now being replicated by Vodafone in Europe and India.

Last year, winners included: ColdTrace, a low-cost wireless sensor designed to improve access to vaccines which protect thousands of children against diseases such as tuberculosis and polio; OScan, an affordable screening tool that brings standardized, multi-modal imaging of the oral cavity into the hands of rural health care workers around the world, and InSight, a money management tool that operates entirely over SMS.

Who should enter?

The competition is open to groups from U.S. 501c3 NGOs and U.S. academic institutions. The project is intended for groups that meet the following criteria:

  • The applicant should propose an innovation in wireless-related technology to address a critical global issue in one or more of the following issue areas: education, health, access to communication, the environment or economic development.
  • The project should demonstrate a significant advancement in wireless-related technology. (Vodafone Americas Foundation defines innovation as something that hasn’t been done before, building upon existing technology or a unique combination of technologies.)
  • The project should be at a stage of research where an advanced prototype or field/market test can occur during the award period.
  • Early-stage research or ready-to-launch products will not be considered.
  • Projects should involve an established multi-disciplinary team that demonstrates the expertise needed for a comprehensive solution to the targeted problem. For example, a team may consist of members from two or more of the following disciplines: engineering, design, business, international development or other relevant disciplines. A team may also consist of university-based researchers and nonprofit organizations working in such areas as international development, health or environment.
  • Projects should demonstrate potential for replication and large-scale impact.
  • Proposals should include a business plan or demonstration of financial sustainability.

What is Vodafone Americas Foundation looking for?

Successful applicants will demonstrate an important innovation in the use of wireless-related technology that provides an effective, sustainable solution to a pressing need for under-resourced populations around the world.

Projects must demonstrate significant advancement in the field of wireless-related technology applied to social benefit, and should be beyond the planning stage. Projects can utilize new mobile technology as well as innovative uses of existing technology.

Said June Sugiyama, Director, Vodafone Americas Foundation, “Obviously it would be fantastic if we could find new innovation. An example that comes to mind is M-Pesa, a mobile money technology. But those are rare and hard to find. We also say if someone can leapfrog from existing technology or use existing technology to really make an incredible impact, that’s also what we’re looking for.”

Dunnett, a former judge, agreed. “New technology takes a significant gestation period and therefore, some of the awards programs can really have a faster route to market when you take an existing technology and apply it in a new space.” So, successful applicants will demonstrate innovation in both the application of technology and the solutions they undertake to solve challenging problems.

Think your project fits the bill?

Fill out the eligibility questionnaire here to create a login and submit an application online. Applicants need to submit a project summary, budget, and responses to a short answer questionnaire about their project. Up to eight finalists will be invited to pitch their ideas in person. Submissions close January 31st. Questions? Check out the FAQ here.

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

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