Innovators Wanted: Insights into Award-Winning Technological Solutions

November 18, 2015

Innovation occurs daily in the technology sector. To tackle complex social challenges, global foundations look to the tech sector to help deliver as many powerful tools in their arsenal as possible to design novel and useful solutions. Identifying innovations, nurturing innovative capacity and supporting innovators are mechanisms to support ideas for the public good.

Siemens Stiftung’s “empowering people. Award 2015" seeks to recognize the work of innovators who have developed technological solutions to help solve basic, real world problems for people in developing countries. Siemens Stiftung is seeking simple technological solutions to improve basic supply and combat poverty. A sampling of previous winners includes:

  • A prosthetic knee designed specifically for conditions in the developing world and costing at least 90 percent less than similar alternatives.
  • Clean drinking water right at the tap so residents of poor, rural communities can cook, clean, bathe, and wash dishes with clean water, minimizing contamination pathways, and preventing fatal diseases and frequent illnesses.
  • A low-cost, energy efficient infant warmer that can help prevent hypothermia for infants with low birth weight in developing countries.

U.S.-based juror Claudia Juech, Associate Vice President at The Rockefeller Foundation where she is charged with identifying new intervention opportunities across all four of the Foundation’s thematic priority areas , shared some insights as to what makes an award-winning entry.

Q: How did you become involved with the award?

Claudia: I learned about the award through one of my program managers here at the Rockefeller Foundation, and felt that there are some strong synergies between the work being undertaken by both the Rockefeller Foundation and Siemens Stiftung.

Q: What criteria do you feel is most important in selecting an award winner?

Claudia: All the criteria for the award are critical. However, I take a close look at whether the project being submitted has what it takes to be viable in the long run – that is, the organization and the technology won’t suddenly become obsolete. The entrant’s business model is one important piece of information to get a sense of the viability of the project.

Q: Along those lines, what does the ideal award winner look like?

Claudia: Ideally, the winner is someone whose project could employ others – it should not be a solo effort. I also like to find someone who comes from that community – someone who can prove they really understand the problem that their solution is addressing.

Q:  What do you feel are major trends impacting innovation in the developing world?

Claudia: Mobile phones have been major game changers in terms of what’s possible today. Much easier access to information and being able to connect with other innovators have increased the capacity of people to take new approaches regardless of who they are or where they are. Increased access to capital through microfinance services is helping to forward innovative technologies. In cities such as Nairobi a true start-up culture has emerged – with co-working spaces and incubators, which is now spreading across the African continent.

Q. What are you seeing as the greatest need or concern?

Claudia: That is difficult to say. Typically, cities as centers of economic growth and innovation have greater access to water, sanitation, health, and education although not all of their inhabitants benefit from that, whereas rural areas do not easily reap the benefit of innovation. The greatest concern is how people can make a living that supports them and their families reliably. In terms of innovations that need to be economically viable we can’t forget about the poorest of the poor who have no disposable income and can’t pay for basic services such as water or electricity.

Q: What advice would you give to entrants?

Claudia: Be as clear as you can be. Don’t assume the jurors know things – provide detailed information, data, and really explain the challenge and your technological solution using examples. Create a compelling case for how your innovation will work to improve underserved countries, and why Siemens Stiftung should award your innovation.

Claudia Juech
Claudia Juech

Claudia Juech is Associate Vice President and Managing Director for Strategic Research at The Rockefeller Foundation where she is charged with maximizing the insight coming into and being generated by the Foundation. This includes leading the Foundation’s “Scan and Search” processes for sourcing and assessing new potential opportunities for impact, which combine social science research methods, concepts from venture capital, and strategic foresight. She also builds and leverages the Foundation’s knowledge networks, oversees efforts to integrate knowledge across departments, and manages residency and conference programming for the Foundation’s Bellagio Center. Claudia Juech established the Foundation's horizon scanning activities and created a global "Searchlight" network of trend monitoring grantees that provided input into idea generation processes at the Foundation.

Previously, she was Vice President at DB Research, Deutsche Bank's think tank for trends in business, society, and financial markets. Reporting to Deutsche Bank Group's chief economist, she provided decision-making support on a broad range of topics, ranging from economic issues to demographics and healthcare. Claudia Juech has a degree in Information Science from Cologne University of Applied Sciences and an International MBA from the University of Cologne.