Innovation Challenge

How might we build resilience in last mile distribution?

The GDC Innovation Challenge is a unique challenge that crowdsources innovations from members, helps pilot the best ideas, and supports the broader last mile distribution community to replicate and learn from those innovations.

After our first challenge in East Africa last year, we are excited to launch a second one which is open to GDC members from more regions as well as organisations that support or work with last mile distributors. Learn more about the winners of our first challenge.

The application window is now closed. Please see below for more details on the process and timeline moving forwards.

What kind of ideas can I apply with?

The response of last mile distributors to the global COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated their determination and ability to adapt, even in the greatest adversity. This isn’t the last challenge the sector will face, but it demonstrates the importance of building last mile distributors’ resilience in order for them to thrive. The GDC’s new Innovation Challenge therefore aims to support innovative ideas that increase the ability of last mile distributors to respond to shocks.

Innovation means different things. It could mean developing an entirely new idea, or it could mean applying a proven idea to a new sector or geography. When it comes to your submissions, we welcome you to think outside the box! Try to consider how an extreme event like the COVID-19 crisis has triggered you to rethink business operations and come up with solutions that do not just provide short-term relief, but potentially strengthen your operations and your impact in the long run.

Up to four ideas will be selected, and will each receive:

  • Up to £50,000 in funding to pilot the innovation
  • Expert technical assistance to support implementation
  • Connections to key stakeholders who could help make your idea an even bigger success
  • Profile and support to disseminate learnings and insights across the sector following implementation

Here are some examples of innovations we may consider:

Note that we do not fund your core business activities. Instead, we look to fund discrete innovations that make your business more future-proof and that can be replicated by others. When they are key to the success of the innovation, we very much welcome applications in partnership. These can be collaborations between GDC members, or between a third party such as a software company that wants to co-develop and pilot a new idea with a GDC member.

Changing current business practices to make them more resilient.

For example, you have an idea for digitizing part of your operations such as demand creation, sales or sales agent training. Or you have an idea for spreading financial risk through diversified revenue streams and smart financing mechanisms.

Developing a new service.

For example, you have an idea for how to serve customers at times they are cash strapped; or you have an idea for how to serve a new target segment.


Establishing new partnerships.

For example, you have an idea for cost-sharing of business activities such as after-sales support with other last mile distributors.


Why should I apply?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to the questions below, then this challenge is for you…

  • I want the space to think freely and creatively, at a time when I am having to make challenging business decisions;
  • I am keen to design and test something new and exciting, but don’t have the skills or resources to do this on my own right now; and
  • I would be happy to see this idea replicated or adopted by the wider sector.

Please note that the application window is now closed.

What happens next?

  • All eligible ideas will be shortlisted and applicants will receive feedback and guidance to refine their idea, before submitting a full proposal by the 28th August which lays out the pilot plan and budget.
  • A short anonymised version of the idea presented in your full proposal will be shared by email with all GDC members, who will be asked to vote for their favourite idea.
  • The best ideas will be vetted by the GDC Advisory Council, but the final selection will be made based on GDC member votes.


  • Frequently Asked Questions

    Q: Can I apply as a start up?

    A: To be eligible, you or the GDC member you are partnering with must have worked in the last mile distribution sector for at least one year.

    Q: Can I apply if am not a GDC member?

    A: We are accepting applications from GDC members as well as organisations that support last mile distributors and are co-applying with a GDC member (e.g. service providers, manufacturers, and software companies). If you are a last mile distributor but not yet a GDC member, sign up here.

    Q: What is the required registration of the entities applying? Does the challenge only support for-profit entities?

    There are no restrictions around what type of organsation you need to be to apply for GDC membership. GDC members are for-profit, not-for-profit or have hybrid models! Therefore, the Innovation Challenge is not limited to a certain type of entity.

    Q: What exactly do you mean by ‘energy access products’?

    A: We accept ideas that support the last mile distribution of products that contribute to SDG7. This includes solar lanterns, solar home systems, energy efficient appliances, improved cookstoves and fuels, as well as solar powered appliances for productive uses. You or the GDC member you apply with must sell these energy access products or, through your idea, be seeking to add them to your portfolio.

    Q: What if the place I operate in is not on the list of eligible countries?

    A: If your country is not on the list (found at the beginning of the application form) then you are unfortunately not eligible to apply this year. The geographic focus is not dictated by the GDC; it is shaped by the Transforming Energy Access programme, under which the GDC is funded.

    Q: Is it important to develop a proposal together with either another GDC member or a service provider?

    A: We welcome applications in partnership, either with another GDC member or an organisation like a service provider – if they make sense and will add value. This is not mandatory or a prerequisite.

    Q: When will successful applicants receive the financial and technical support?

    A: We plan to announce the winning ideas at the end of September, after which we will carry out the due diligence process with the winners. This means our collaboration will start no earlier than 1st November 2020.

    Q: How can I use the funds if they are not meant to support the core business? And are there any restrictions to budget use?

    A: In the second stage of the application process you will need to present a detailed budget, in which you should specify how money will be used to finance the piloting of your idea. This might include the salary of team members, and/or procurement of materials or software.

    We will not fund the following costs as part of the pilot: overheads; financing or similar costs; maintenance and support costs to the extent that these relate to maintenance and/or support services beyond the scope of the pilot; taxation; fines and penalties; non‐cash items (incl. depreciation, amortisation, impairments, and movements in provisions).

    Q: What does the replication activity entail?

    A: This depends on the innovation. For some, it will mean replicating with some tweaks – for others the idea will be a service for LMDs that they can access. The GDC team will be capturing the learning from each innovation and supporting other members to adopt these innovations, i.e. through working groups, open-sourcing tools/templates, or having members present their innovations to the wider community.

    Q: Do winners maintain the intellectual property of the idea they pilot?

    A: Winners must understand that your idea and learning from your pilot will be used to benefit other GDC members; either because you will open-source the approach for others to replicate, or because it is a service that you or another organisation will be providing to other members.

  • Evaluation criteria

    Make sure you have considered the following evaluation criteria when preparing your application, as this will increase the chances that your innovation is selected.

    • Innovation: Your idea is exciting because it is creative and new for the last-mile distribution sector in your region.
    • Replicability: Your idea is relevant for the broader sector and can be replicated or used by other GDC members.
    • Impact: Your idea makes last mile distribution businesses more resilient. It helps reach underserved customers, and is gender inclusive.
    • Feasibility: Your idea can be realised and validated (piloted) in a nine month period. You can provide a compelling strategy for how to deal with the biggest assumptions and risks.
    • Sustainability: You have a clear idea of how you can sustain and scale your idea if the pilot is successful, after the funding and support from the GDC comes to an end.
    • Commitment: You have a highly committed team with the necessary expertise, and the ability to free up sufficient time, to bring your idea to life.

UK Aid logo

This project is funded by UK aid from the British government.