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Scientists Without Borders awards $10,000 to solvers of maternal health and nutrition challenge

Tue, 03/29/2011 - 7:39am
EurekAlert

Scientists Without Borders, a public/private partnership dedicated to developing, advancing, and sharing innovative approaches to solve pressing global development challenges, today announced three winning solutions in the $10,000 Scientists Without Borders Maternal Health and Nutrition open innovation challenge. Solvers located in New Zealand, India, and the US will share the cash prize for their innovative ideas for developing significantly more effective interventions to address the critical problem of folic acid deficiency in women of child-bearing age in the developing world, which contributes to high rates of infant mortality and birth defects. The Challenge, issued in November 2010, sought simple and low-cost methods to enable women to easily supplement or fortify staple foods with folic acid at the home or community level.

The winners were selected from among 64 submissions entered over a 30-day period from teams and individuals in 21 different countries?over a third of the submissions came from Solvers located in the developing world. The first place solution was submitted by Carlos Miranda of New Zealand, a manager at a pharmaceutical company, who proposed a method of triple fortifying salt. The second place solution was submitted by Pushpakaran K. Thiyadi of India, a freelance researcher and consultant, who proposed an idea for microencapsulation of folic acid. The third place solution was submitted by a team of graduate students from Northwestern University?comprised of individuals hailing from Albania, Canada, Russia, and Vietnam?who proposed leveraging microfinance networks as a distribution mechanism.

"Undernutrition, which includes deficiencies in micronutrients such as folic acid, is one of the most serious and least addressed global development issues, contributing to an estimated 3.5 million preventable maternal and child deaths a year," said Shaifali Puri, Executive Director of Scientists Without Borders. "We are thrilled that our unique model for leveraging collaboration and open innovation yielded such promising approaches to accelerating progress in this crucial area."

To develop the Challenge and select the winners, Scientists Without Borders convened an independent Advisory Panel of three of the world's leading nutrition science and policy experts, and facilitated a novel collaboration among them. The panelists were Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta of Aga Khan University in Pakistan; Eileen Kennedy, Dean of the Gerald and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University; and Dr. Ricardo Uauy, professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and former president of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences.

To harness the diverse insights and expertise of as many creative problem-solvers as possible, Scientists Without Borders disseminated the Challenge on its unique, free web-based platform and to its worldwide network. It also partnered with InnoCentive, the global leader in Challenge Driven Innovation, which hosted and administered the Challenge on its platform and disseminated it to its pool of 250,000 expert Solvers. For sponsorship of the prize amount, Scientists Without Borders partnered with PepsiCo.

"It is exciting that by jointly leveraging the InnoCentive and Scientists Without Borders platforms we were able to reach such a diverse group of solvers and unearth these solutions," said Puri. "Our results demonstrate the virtues of collaborating with such world-class organizations in multi-sector partnerships to surface innovative solutions to vexing global development challenges."

"This Challenge fostered a multitude of innovative ideas, and we could not be happier to support this endeavor," said Mehmood Khan, CEO of PepsiCo's Global Nutrition Group, the company's chief scientific officer, and a member of the New York Academy of Sciences Board of Governors. "We must continue to strive for innovative solutions that make healthy eating and healthy lifestyles affordable and convenient. By addressing critical undernutrition at home and with women, the Solvers have played a vital role in the health of mothers, their children, and future generations."

"Ensuring delivery of critical nutrients to women of childbearing age in developing countries is an issue that is complex and difficult to scale," said InnoCentive CEO Dwayne Spradlin. "We are delighted that we were able to engage our Solver network in seeking answers to this problem."

Having announced the winning solutions, Scientists Without Borders will now work with the Solvers and additional partners to advance the ideas proposed so that they can be translated into viable and scalable interventions. Scientists Without Borders will also publish the winning solutions on its web platform so that they are openly available to additional innovators or collaborators who can build upon or help advance them.

In addition to partner challenges like its Maternal Health and Nutrition Challenge, Scientists Without Borders also enables user-generated challenges framed by any individual or entity to be posted on its platform and broadcast to its worldwide user base and partner network for assistance in identifying solutions. Scientists Without Borders is in the process of developing a unique fund to attach incentives and prizes to select user-generated challenges to help support and promote the grassroots identification of important global development and implementation challenges and solutions from the widest array of stakeholders possible.

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