Nicholas Fusso

Distribution, the Key to Unlocking the Development Toolbox: D-Prize offers $20,000 awards for start-ups with innovative distribution models across sectors

A massive global toolbox, filled with highly effective tools for solving poverty, continues to expand. Inside you’ll find relatively recent additions, such as portable solar lanterns. Other tools, like childhood immunizations, have been dependable for generations. Unfortunately, this toolbox is not open to everyone; it seems someone forgot to unlock it for those most in need of access.

In fact there are many proven paths toward development. The past decades have observed a wide range of advancements – including new health and medical interventions, development-focused technologies, and proven financial services. Yet millions in the developing world still lack access to basic poverty solutions. Why is that? Today’s greatest need is not for scientists and engineers to create new tools. The real need is for better distribution of solutions that already work. In other words, distribution equals development, and it is up to social entrepreneurs to distribute those tools and eradicate poverty.

A new organization, D-Prize, believes entrepreneurs can scale up access to poverty solutions, and is backing the belief with $200,000 in available seed capital. Do you have an idea for a new distribution-focused venture? Become a D-Prize contestant: submit your concept for a new venture that solves distribution challenges, and potentially win an award for up to $20,000 to launch a pilot in the developing world.

What might a D-Prize venture look like? One winning idea might design a way to traverse the “last mile” between communities in need and current access points. For example, praziquantel is a 10 cent drug used to effectively treat schistosomias, an intestinal parasite. NGOs like SCI and Deworm the World run large-scale treatment campaigns through school systems that have proven highly effective. Yet the WHO estimates that 220 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are still in need of medication – and not all can be found by targeting treatment at schools. D-Prize is seeking an entrepreneur who can put a new organization in place that will deliver simple treatments to at least 25,000 people in need.

Contestants may also design new ways to improve current distribution methods. For instance, a suite of standard vaccines can immunize a child against many life-threatening diseases at a cost of less than $20. Yet mismanagement of distribution programs can lead to less-than-optimal results. Poor storage, contamination, and theft cause many vaccines to be unusable. The WHO found that wastage rates of BCG, a vaccine against tuberculosis, have reached 70%. Similarly, supply chain issues can lead to empty warehouses and stock-outs – which is one reason why Nigeria’s vaccination rates have dipped in the past year. A new mobile app, thorough data management software, or cutting edge supply chain processes could all be winning ideas that pilot this summer.

D-Prize ventures do not need to be product-focused either. Some interventions involve sharing knowledge. To illustrate, a “sugar daddy awareness” class teaches grade school girls about the riskiness associated with choosing an older sexual partner. These one hour classes have been shown to successfully target risky sexual behavior and reduce unwanted teen pregnancy by 28%. D-Prize is eager to provide seed capital to an entrepreneur who can distribute this type of education to 10,000 young women.

Over 100 social entrepreneurs from all over the globe have already submitted an idea. Many are focused on the challenges above; other contestants are suggesting their own challenges. One has proposed using community-based health volunteers to screen for diabetes and monitor treatment. Another contestant has designed an innovative model that solves supply chain hurdles between local retailers and large suppliers. They also provide warranty service and demonstrate new products – not unlike major retailers in the developed world. A third contestant designed a venture that uses Peace Corps Volunteer knowledge to increase local trade and tourism.

Five hundred sixty five startups are launched each month in the United States. They have changed the way we learn, communicate, connect with others, find food, and make travel plans. The current generation of entrepreneurs has already changed the world. Now it is time to focus that same spirit on the world’s greatest challenge: putting an end to poverty. Right now there are millions of people in need and an organization ready to award funding. The only ingredient missing is your great idea.

Applications to solve D-Prize challenges are accepted through April 30. D-Prize runs several competitions per year. Learn more at

Andrew Youn is the founder of One Acre Fund and a board member of D-Prize. Nicholas Fusso is the program director for D-Prize, which funds social ventures in the developing world.

business development, supply chains