Last November, Scientists Without Borders underwent a makeover from a social networking site for scientists to an open innovation platform that crowdsources solutions to scientific problems. The first major challenge, sweetened by $10,000 in PepsiCo-funded prize money, is reducing infant mortality in the developing world through better nutrition.
Infant mortality in many developing countries is high (3.6 million children dying each year in the neonatal period), but it could easily be averted by reducing the deficiencies of micronutrients (i.e. folic acid) in women of childbearing age. Folic acid is available in supplements and pre-made foods in developed countries, but that's not the case elsewhere. Scientists were being asked to develop an at-home or community-based method for women to safely, easily, and affordably fortify staple foods with folic acid—without requiring major cultural or behavioral changes.
The challenge stopped accepting solutions in November, and now an advisory panel of three leading nutrition scientists is picking from 51 of the best entries, which came from all over the world—including 22 entries from the the Global South (Africa, Asia, Central and Latin America). "We're tapping into communities not usually engaged in these processes," says Shaifali Puri, Executive Director of Scientists Without Borders.
The advisory panel is in the final stages of review, and a winner will be announced next month. Scientists Wihout Borders is already in talks to develop more partner-funded challenges, perhaps related to medicine, agriculture, or water.
In the next few months, the organization also hopes to create its own fund to highlight user-generated challenges—"a competition mechanism to put money behind what we think is the most compelling challenge on the site in a given month," says Puri. As it stands, Scientists Without Borders doesn't offer prizes to members who submit responses to user challenges.
The next step is bringing the most useful responses to life. As Puri explains, "That's a longer-term process."