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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Good Ideas Meet Elbow Grease: Evidence Action committed to taking evidence-based programs and services to large scale

By Alix Zwane

With an innovative chlorine dispenser technology, Evidence Action provides a simple, cost-effective solution for poor communities where people lack access to safe water from a piped system. (Image credit: Evidence Action)

I’ve been working in global public health and development a long time. I feel honored to have witnessed the quiet and ongoing revolution that has come with a growing focus on evidence in this space. More and more, governments are focused on testing programs critically to understand their impact, and how to grow them.

The next rolling revolution that is needed concerns scale — taking promising approaches and pilots to massive scale. Too often, the elbow grease and artistry that take a good idea and get it embedded in markets or government institutions prove elusive.

The new nonprofit organization we’re launching takes on this challenge with a laser focus. Evidence Action begins from the premise that achieving scale across sectors and contexts is a solvable challenge, and that it can lead to gains in expertise and experience. The private sector has demonstrated this to be the case.

Evidence Action is committed to becoming a leader in the global development space, with a specific commitment to crafting resilient business models for proven interventions. We will take evidence-based programs and services to large scale in several sectors and settings. We begin with two flagship programs, Dispensers for Safe Water and the Deworm the World Initiative.

Dispensers for Safe Water is an entrepreneurial program scaling the chlorine dispenser system, a proven innovation that dramatically expands access to water treatment at an extremely low cost. This year the program will reach more than 1 million people in Africa, providing safe drinking water to vulnerable populations.

We have just launched an innovative partnership with Kiva that will finance the instillation of 3,000 new dispensers and reach more than 600,000 people. Anyone can support the program by lending as little as $25.

The Deworm the World Initiative actively supports the scale-up of school-based deworming programs worldwide to improve children’s health, education and long-term development. Free of intestinal worms, these children can concentrate better and get more out of schooling.

The Deworm the World Initiative partners with governments to support their work, ensuring integration with other health and education initiatives and long-run financial sustainability for school-based deworming programs.

These two programs were incubated at our sister organization, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). By generating high-quality evidence, IPA works to discover and promote effective solutions to poverty problems around the world. We look forward to relying on a pipeline of ideas from IPA and elsewhere as we continue to expand our work.

What do you think are promising evidence-based programs that are overlooked? Why do pilots so often fail to scale? I welcome your feedback and ideas.


Alix Zwane is the executive director of Evidence Action and a member of the board of directors.


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