transform and unilever launch open call for social open innovation

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Calling all social entrepreneurs: achieving sustainable development through open innovation

May 9, 2018

Innovation Factory

In 2015, leaders across the world adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In the same week, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Unilever announced a new partnership to drive progress towards achieving the SDGs. Now, as part of their mission, they are harnessing the power of open innovation by launching an open call for social enterprises to share their ideas.

Named TRANSFORM, the joint initiative declared its commitment to help 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to gain access to products and services that have been shown to improve health, livelihoods, the environment or wellbeing by 2025, and make sustainable living commonplace.

The initiative, which recently quadrupled its pledge to £40 million, is looking to support social enterprises through collaborations with social innovators and entrepreneurs. TRANSFORM identifies commercially viable investments, in areas such as water, sanitation and last-mile distribution, provides funding and delivers technical expertise and capacity building to create impact at scale.

Calling on social innovators and entrepreneurs

The partnership has benefited more than 400,000 people to date, through 19 projects across nine countries. To further catalyse impact, TRANSFORM recently announced its open call, which invites social enterprises to send in their applications of market-based solutions in three areas:

  • Delivering products in hard-to-reach rural locations, with a particular interest in Nigeria, Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
  • Providing sanitation to low-income urban and rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
  • Raising awareness and demand for safe, affordable drinking water in highly dispersed rural households across South Asia, with a particular interest in Bangladesh and India.

TRANSFORM offers grant funding of up to £300,000 and bespoke business support to take ideas to scale. Projects must demonstrate the potential to be financially sustainable, target low-income household needs in an innovative way and focus on one of DFID’s priority countries.

Collaboration through open innovation

The SDGs are ambitious – estimates show that investments of between $3-4 trillion a year are required to meet them. Having identified an annual funding gap of $2.5 trillion, DFID and Unilever champion multi-stakeholder partnerships as the answer to unlocking the resources needed to enable inclusive markets.

In order to gather the best and most sustainable ideas that will help meet the needs of low-income households in developing countries, TRANSFORM is using open innovation – specifically the Exago Open software – to invite ideas from social enterprises and promote impact at scale.

“We know that some of the best ideas and boldest actions are coming from entrepreneurs and start-ups,” says Clive Allison, director of New Business Models at Unilever. “These disruptors are driving new innovations and business models to create the momentum the economy needs to transform itself, and the TRANSFORM initiative is a key vehicle to unlock these opportunities and scale solutions that work, to build a brighter future for all.”

Applications for TRANSFORM’s open call will close on June 5. For more information and to share your ideas, please visit

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