GIF for researchers

Evidence is essential to innovation, and we are committed to promoting smart, evidence-led investing.


Research plays a central role: as a source of innovative ideas, and as a tool for assessing their impact, cost-effectiveness, and scalability. We are very much interested in supporting policy reforms that could improve the equity or efficiency of public sector performance. We support investments in public, private, and nonprofit activities, using all available financial instruments.

GIF construes “innovations” broadly, to include behavioral nudges and organizational innovations as well as hardware and software. Some examples include:

  • The Behavioural Insight Team’s work on improving tax compliance.
  • A training system for skills and entrepreneurship developed by Educate!, an Ugandan organization.
  • Segovia’s system for facilitating cash transfers to vulnerable populations.
  • Simprint’s rugged biometric identification system.
  • Sparkmeter’s technologies to promote access to electricity.  

The role of research and evidence at GIF

Evidence is at the heart of GIF’s staged approach to investment. GIF takes well-informed risks in pursuit of high social benefits. To do so, we embed learning into each investment. We want to know things like: does this innovation improve poor people’s well-being?   How?  Under what conditions? By how much? Does it promote gender equality? Is it cost-effective? How sensitive is demand to income and price?  The answers will guide decisions by GIF and others on whether and how to scale up the innovations.

There are several ways for researchers to get involved.

  • If you have an innovative idea that you’d like to test for proof of concept, you can apply for a pilot grant (up to $230,000).  If you’re past the pilot stage and ready to rigorously test impact and cost-effectiveness, you can apply for a test and transition grant (up to $2.3 million).
  • If you are interested in evaluating an innovation being implemented by a government, business, or NGO, team up with them and apply for funding.  The application could come either from the implementer or the researcher.  For innovations that already have good supporting evidence and want to generate further learning as they expand and evolve, total funding can go up to $15 million.
  • If you’ve already evaluated an innovation and found it to be promising, let us know about it, and encourage the innovator to apply to GIF for scale-up.
  • GIF is also eager to hear from researchers with innovative approaches to reducing the cost and improving the utility of monitoring and evaluation, including promotion of feedback for adaptive implementation of projects.

Examples of ongoing GIF-related research

Many of GIF’s investments have research as a centerpiece.  Some examples:

Types of research supported

While many of GIF’s projects involve randomised controlled trials, GIF is not dogmatic on research methodology.  We seek the techniques — or combination of techniques — that will best address the questions at hand. Our smaller, pilot-stage projects focus on proof of concept, and might, for instance, include field-testing for efficacy or assessing household demand for a new product.  Test and transition projects generally aim at rigorously assessing impact or cost-effectiveness, together with getting insight on factors affecting further scale-up, or replication in other settings.

Criteria for funding

Innovation:  Research should promote real-world implementation of an innovative approach to an important development challenge.  Innovations are things that make it easier, faster, less costly, or otherwise more feasible to achieve a development result than current practice.  This includes testing to see if a result demonstrated in one context applies in others.

Potential impact: GIF is looking for innovations that make a big difference.  These are innovations that, if scaled up or replicated, could make a substantial difference to millions of lives, or perhaps a transformative difference to hundreds of thousands. Target innovations have social benefits that far outweigh social costs.

Poverty focus:  Target innovations are those that can improve the lives of those living at $5/day, and especially those subsisting on less than $2/day.  This criterion is applied at the level of the beneficiary.  So while GIF works mostly in low-income countries or provinces, it could consider, for instance, innovations that help impoverished slum-dwellers in a middle-income country.

Potential for and pathway to scale: GIF wants to support ideas that scale up.  There are many potential paths to scale, including:

  • Organic growth of a for-profit or non-profit organization
  • Demonstration of an innovation that gets taken up by the public sector, e.g. in health or education delivery
  • Creation of an open-source innovation that is spontaneously emulated

Researchers are not necessarily expected to be the agents who scale up an innovation.  However, research questions should be framed so that the answers inform decisions about whether and how to scale up the innovation.   At the pilot stage, applicants should be able to specify one or more potential pathways to scale, but GIF recognizes that there may be considerable uncertainty at this stage.  At the Test & Transition stage, GIF expects applicants to specify potential pathways to scale, and more favorably views applicants with progress towards securing support from partners for scaling the innovation, should it test successfully.   

Team: The quality of the team is an important criterion for selection.  Teams should be able to demonstrate strong knowledge of the problems they are addressing and an understanding of the setting in which the innovation will be tested.  GIF encourages applications from women and from researchers and organisations based in developing countries.

Measuring success and sharing lessons learned. GIF is interested in assessing the causal impact of innovations on outcomes closely related to people’s well-being. GIF is also keenly interested in cost-effectiveness.  GIF looks for a commitment to share results and lessons. While GIF’s research goal is improving people’s lives, not publication for its own sake, GIF encourages publication of results in academic journals where appropriate.

No basic or laboratory research:  GIF doesn’t support theoretical research or laboratory based research.