Photo Credit: Chris Houston

Creating Hope in Conflict: a Humanitarian Grand Challenge 2020 Request for Proposals in Numbers


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How the Humanitarian Grand Challenge applications reflect the diversity and focus of the innovation sector


This year’s Humanitarian Grand Challenge received 582 applications from 71 countries around the world. This year’s applications were sourced in a year where violence, insecurity, and climate extremes drive more people into crises, all compounded by the global COVID-19 pandemic. That we saw increased numbers of applications from conflict-affected countries and low-and-middle-income countries speaks not only to the amount and variety of innovative ideas available in challenging contexts around the world, but also to the genuine desire for locally-led solutions to save and improve lives affected by conflict.

Here’s a closer look at this year’s Humanitarian Grand Challenge applications, and how they compare to last year’s numbers.



582 applications we received in 2020 came from 71 different countries in all seven regions of the world.

69% of this year’s applications came from low-and-middle income countries.

The majority of applications received were from the United States, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, the United Kingdom, Yemen, Uganda, and Canada. For this round of funding, our program narrowed the focus of our support, funding Safe Water and Sanitation at Transition to Scale only, and hyper-focusing on locally-led solutions. 

While we saw a decrease in applications (from 648 in 2019 to 582 in 2020), likely a result of our funding changes, as well as  wider effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw an increase in applications from locally owned and managed organizations, and low-and-middle-income countries. 



Looking at the countries by income level, similar to 2019, more than half of the applications (69%) we received this year were from low-and-middle income countries. The top 10 low-and-middle income countries with the highest number of applications are, in order of most applications received from each low-and-middle income country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, Uganda, Turkey, Somalia, Kenya, Syria and India.

For both 2019 and 2020, the majority of the applications received came from low-and-middle income countries. The 2020 applications saw a 11% increase in applications from low-and-middle income countries. Note: Income level was based on the World Bank’s income classification report.

This year, we saw an increase in applications from low-and-middle income countries from 58% in 2019 to 69% in 2020. Specifically, applications from low-income countries rose by X% in this round of funding. This includes applications from low-income countries ranked among the most complex and challenging emergencies, including Yemen, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria.

While we accept applications from all countries, the Humanitarian Grand Challenge program believes in encouraging and prioritizing applications from low-income countries, where the need for innovative solutions is more urgent and where local responders are often better placed to reach affected people in insecure settings, but lack the funding, resources, or the capacity to provide aid in hard-to-reach places.



In terms of gender diversity, this year’s Humanitarian Grand Challenge saw a slight increase in the percentage of women applicants compared to last year (31% in 2020 vs. 27% in 2019); and a slight increase in the percentage of non-identifying applicants was also observed (1% in 2020 vs. 0.7% in 2019). While we were successful in receiving applications from low-income countries and countries affected by conflict, more work still needs to be done to improve gender representation in innovation and locally-led solutions. We strive to encourage and fund non-binary and women-led innovations. Within the broader humanitarian sector, women continue to have limited access to leadership positions. Regionally, our program focuses on reaching the hardest-to-reach people affected by conflict. This includes people living in Yemen, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which according to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap, are among the lowest ranking countries in women’s economic participation and opportunity. 


31% of the applications this year came from women. This is a 4% increase on 2019 applications. Note: Gender was tabulated according to self-identified gender of the project lead.



The Humanitarian Grand Challenge if focused on four key focus areas: Life-Saving Information, Energy, Health Supplies and Services, and Safe Water and Sanitation* (*Transition to Scale only).

This year, the majority of the solutions (32%) put forward were in the area of Health Supplies and Services; followed by Life-Saving Information (26%); Safe Water and Sanitation (22%); and Energy (20%). 

32% of the applications were focused on providing health supplies and services. 

Of the two streams, Seed or Transition to Scale, we saw 65% of applications were for Seed projects and 35% were for Transition to Scale projects. This is a substantial increase from the 2019 Transition to Scale applications, which comprised only 11% of total applications received. 

The 2020 applications received saw a 24% increase in Transition to Scale applications (from 11% in 2019, to 35% in 2020).



This round of funding, we explicitly stated our preference in funding locally-led solutions. People living in conflict zones and those having been directly affected by conflict are best placed to address their own acute humanitarian challenges. Due to their contextual knowledge and connections to affected communities, local responders are also well placed to reach affected people in insecure settings, but lack the funding, resources, or the capacity to provide aid in hard-to-reach places. This is something we hope to change. 

Applicants must demonstrate how they are connected to the affected community in which they seek to serve, either through an active partnership agreement with a local community organization or a pending partnership with a local community organization. 

The 2020 applications received saw 36% of applications having an affected community partnership; 30% of applications being affected community owned; 19% of applications led by affected communities; and 15% with a pending partnership with a local or community organization. 



Our team is currently reviewing each application before the best are sent to an independent panel of experts for their review. Each application will be reviewed in order to select the best innovations chosen for funding and support.


Are you one of the applicants? Watch this space for updates! 


Thank you to everyone who applied to this year’s Request for Proposals! 


Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge is a partnership of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development office (FCDO), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, with support from Grand Challenges Canada. USAID, FCDO, and the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands have contributed USD $32.5 million for the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, which was launched in 2018 to enable local organizations, humanitarian agencies, and the private sector to work alongside affected communities to respond more nimbly to complex emergencies, address the unprecedented magnitude of suffering around the world, and empower people to create better lives for themselves. Grand Challenges Canada is implementing Creating Hope in Conflict on behalf of the investors. 


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  • Zeba Tasci