Tech4Dev launches its new edition 2024-2027

©Markus Zorn

©Markus Zorn

In the face of growing global crises, it is imperative to intensify our efforts to build a more equitable and sustainable future for all. The Tech4Dev program aims to accelerate the transfer of scientific technologies into sustainable solutions tailored to the context of developing countries.

Initiated by the Vice Presidency for Innovation at EPFL and supported by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Tech4Dev operates within an International Cooperation framework engaging the scientific community (from EPFL and other universities), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and local stakeholders (civil society, government entities, private sector).

We meet with Tiphaine Detoudeville, Program Manager of Tech4Dev, and Ferran Caceres, Head of Innovation Initiatives at the Vice Presidency for Innovation, the driving forces behind the project.

Can you explain the origin of Tech4Dev?

Tiphaine: It arose from the awareness of current crises, which primarily impact the most vulnerable populations. There is a strong need to sensitize and mobilize the scientific community to contribute to resolving these issues within our means and scale. But how? The challenge of Tech4Dev lies in the collaborative approach between researchers, NGOs, and local stakeholders to effectively address identified needs and create long-term impact.

Ferran: The geographic proximity between EPFL, the international domain, and many NGOs located in Geneva and Lausanne presented an opportunity to leverage science and innovation to meet the needs of the populations. Serving society through technology and innovation is the core mission of the Vice Presidency for Innovation at EPFL. With Tech4Dev, we aim to broaden this mission. During the first edition (2019-2023), the program funded eight ongoing projects in Colombia, Nepal, Cameroon, Kenya, South Sudan, and Mozambique.

How do you select which projects to support? Can you detail your selection and support process?

Tiphaine: It all starts from the ground up. A significant phase of identifying population needs is conducted by the Tech4Dev team with the NGOs, a key step we call the "project activation phase." We then present these challenges to the scientific community at EPFL and other universities. When there is a "match," meaning an NGO and a research team ready to collaborate on a targeted need, they respond to our calls for projects in partnership to enter the "project acceleration phase," divided into three stages.

A panel of experts assesses the feasibility of the project at each stage. The evaluation criteria are based on the technology's ability to quickly adapt to the local context. They examine not only the technical feasibility but also how the solution integrates into the local landscape, along with its social, economic, and environmental impacts.

Each partnership is supported by the Tech4Dev team throughout the process. Beyond funding, we provide operational, strategic, and networking support. We work closely with each team to minimize project risks and ensure their long-term development.

How is the cooperation organized between researchers, NGOs, and local actors?

Tiphaine: Each partner brings their expertise and resources. The NGO acts as the guardian of the initial need, providing ground knowledge and involving local communities from day one, connecting essential local stakeholders for the project's long-term success. Researchers, NGOs, and local stakeholders work together towards a common goal from the start. Jointly determining the questions, approaches, and methods is a crucial first step in establishing a fair and equitable partnership to ensure project success.

Innovation lies not only in the technology but also in the comprehensive approach to deploying the solution, encompassing various aspects such as social impact, economic viability, knowledge and skills sharing, intellectual property, open science strategy, replicability potential, and involvement of local decision-makers.

The first call is underway. Could you share the needs identified by the NGOs, and are there any particular trends in these requests?

Tiphaine: So far, we have identified over 50 field needs identified by more than twenty active NGOs in developing countries.

A significant majority of the identified needs focus on analyzing the impact of climate change on various traditional NGO sectors: water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), health, natural disasters, food security, and biodiversity.

In parallel with the program, we are drafting a report on this topic, identifying potential technologies that could help address these challenges.

From needs to prototype implementation, the path is fraught with obstacles. The ideas conceived by researchers are directly tested on the ground in collaboration with NGOs and local actors. Direct confrontation with reality leads to iterations until the right solution is found. But who will ensure the project's local sustainability once implemented? Long-term success measures the impact of actions, and Tech4Dev understands this well. Today, the mission to impact society enters its second edition. Two calls for projects are planned this year for NGOs and the scientific community on three priority topics: health, climate change, and energy transition. The first call is open until June 30, and the second will open in October 2024.

For more

Discover the new call in the video: