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Bangladesh and India teams pitch winning solutions to problems of poverty

By Geeta Mehrotra
March 2018
Bangladesh and India teams pitch winning solutions to problems of poverty


CARE USA is an Atlanta-based humanitarian organization that fights hunger and poverty globally. CARE operates in 94 countries, and works on more than 1000 poverty-fighting and humanitarian aid projects, impacting billions of poor.

CARE's history: It started in 1945 when 22 organizations joined hands to send CARE Packages to survivors of World War II in Europe. On May 11, 1946, the first 15,000 packages reached the port of Le Havre, France. These packages were U.S. Army surplus “10-in-1” food parcels intended to provide one meal for 10 soldiers during the planned invasion of Japan. Americans could send to friends and families in Europe, where millions were in danger of starvation. Ten dollars bought a CARE Package and guaranteed that its addressee would receive it within four months. When the “10-in-1” packages ran out, Americans donated to send packages that included tools, blankets, clothes, books, school supplies, and medicine, and the area of delivery expanded to Asia and South America.

Gradually, the organization grew and expanded its vision globally. The focus is on empowering women and girls to help families and their communities by providing basic education, increasing access to clean water, sanitation, expanding economic opportunity, and protecting natural resources. Emergency aid provided to survivors of war and natural disasters helps people rebuild their lives.

CARE's new Scale X Design Accelerator: Under the leadership of Ms. Dar Vanderbeck, Chief Innovation Officer for CARE USA, CARE’s Scale X Design (“Scale by Design” or SXD) Accelerator is a first-of-its kind learning platform that brings together leading social entrepreneurs, investors, corporate executives, and development practitioners for collaborative workshops, giving the development practitioners new skills, mentorship, and resources to bring to scale the most promising and proven innovations to end poverty and promote social justice. It’s a year-long process from the time applications are reviewed to finalists meeting in the U.S. for pitching their final presentation in front of a panel of external judges. The inspiration was drawn from a model similar to Shark Tank, to help speed up the process from idea to impact.

Challenge winners receive cash awards by audience vote as well as by judges’ vote, and also receive dedicated support from within and outside CARE to work on taking their proven interventions to scale for larger benefits.

In an interview with Khabar, Vanderbeck explained that the idea came after looking into the global nature of the problem of injustices faced around the world, as well as looking into innovation and adoption, while keeping in mind the span of 93 different countries. This brought CARE to the accelerator model which was created two years ago.


2018 Teams: This year, fourteen teams from different countries around the world pitched in Atlanta on February 1, 2018 at the High Museum of Art’s Rich Auditorium. They were Nyeleni [women farmers, Mali], Uptakepreneur, The Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab [West Bank/Gaza], The Resilient VSLA [displaced communities, Democratic Republic of the Congo], Borderless Security Solutions [First Aid, USA/global], Vijana Juu/Up with Youth [reproductive health, Democratic Republic of the Congo], Circles of Change [males against gender-based violence, Egypt], The Water Collective [slums, Bangladesh], The Cooperative Fund [agriculture, Republic of Georgia], AloWeather [weather forecasts for farms, Vietnam], A-Card [banking for small farms, Bangladesh], Making Treasure from Trash [biogas and biofertilizer, Ghana], Teaching Resource Labs: Advancing Teachers for Tomorrow’s Inclusive Classrooms [STEM for girls, India].






Judging: A panel of eight judges voted to select the winner: Alexis Bonnell - USAID, James Bui - Lotus Impact, Ryan Gravel - Sixpitch, Derreck Kayongo – Center for Civil and Human Rights, Zack Langway - Johnson & Johnson, Elena Matsui - Rockefeller Foundation, Carrie Moore - Delta Air Lines, and Theia Washington Smith - City of Atlanta’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. Emcees were Rose Scott of WABE and Fredricka Whitfield of CNN.

Online viewers watched a live stream of the competition on CARE’s Facebook page, and a mobile phone app allowed for remote voting. Winners by audience vote received $50,000 and judges’ choices received $100,000. The innovative and creative ideas were judged on presentation and scale and sustainable solutions.


CARE USA’s Chief Innovation Officer Dar Vanderbeck cheers team A-Card from Bangladesh, a winner in the Scale X Design competition in Atlanta, while CARE CEO Michelle Nunn congratulates Mr. Bidyuth Mahalder and Ms. Tania Sharmin. (Photo: Courtesy of CARE)

The winners in Atlanta were awarded by CARE President and CEO Michelle Nunn. $50,000 went to A-Card, for cashless digital financial products for farmers in Bangladesh, and to Circles of Change from CARE Egypt for training male taxi drivers to fight sexual harassment. $100,000 each went to UptakePreneur from West Bank/Gaza, that supports entrepreneurs to transform the barriers of political instability into economic growth opportunities, and Nyeleni from Mali for empowering women farmers.

Vanderbeck’s enthusiasm was reflected in her beaming smile all evening and especially when she introduced the winning teams for the award. The final “pitch” from CEO Michelle Nunn was for everyone to download the CARE app and to donate to the teams they wanted to support, so that the rest of the teams could be helped financially, too—participating to make an impact.

A-Card, Bangladesh: Tania Sharmin, one of the team members, told Khabar about the difficulties small farmers face in managing their cash flow. Approximately 80% of rural populations in Bangladesh are not part of the formal banking system. For smallholder farmers needing access to capital, micro-finance has been the solution. Of the approximately $8.4 billion in loans dispersed annually to 34 million active borrowers in Bangladesh, 48% micro-finance loans were given for agriculture purpose. Yet micro-finance loans can be a clumsy tool to address the special needs of farmers. Their stringent repayment time means farmers are forced to sell their harvest regardless of current market prices, which often leads to financial losses. Farmers try to cover weekly loan repayments by taking loans from other sources, driving themselves into deeper debt. Women farmers face additional challenges—they have little control over resources, thus, men often coerce their spouse to take micro-finance loans for other needs. Studies reveal only 20% of micro-finance loans taken by women are used by them. A system is required that ensures the right financial product reaches the right kind of smallholder farmer, to be used for agriculture purposes in a way that ensures repayment without exploiting the farmers’ plight.



(Right) Attendees peruse the information on the winning A-Card team’s brochure. (Photo: Courtesy of CARE)

A-Card Solution team addressed this issue by designing a financial product. A-Card is a debit card, issued by a bank, with a pre-determined credit ceiling. This loan is provided at lowest possible interest rate, with more flexible payback plans than traditional loans. Farmers use the A-Card to purchase agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilizer, etc.) from selected retailers. Since the A-Card is secured with fingerprint-scan technology, face recognition, and signature, it can only be used at agriculture-related retailers within the system and cannot be used by another person or for any other purposes.

Some 1,300 farmers have received access to credit under the A-Card Network. Bank Asia has disbursed over $100,000 to A-Card holders. In the first phase, A-Card users showed 100% repayment. Production increased by 5.5% and A-Card farmers’ income has increased by 14%, meaning an additional $250 profit in 6 months.

CARE seeks to test this market-based approach with new financial institutions who will take over the implementation and scaling of the A-Card solution. Additionally, A-Card plans to scale beyond retailers and work with other actors in the agriculture value chain and replicate this model in other countries.


A team from India won an award from Cisco Systems for its winning pitch about teachers’ resources to help girls in STEM. Shown are Ms. S. Gayatri Iyer in black sari and Dr. Vandana Mishra in pink. (Photos: Courtesy of CARE)



Teachers’ Resource Labs, India: On February 9, a similar event was held in Silicon Valley at Stanford University. The winners were Making Treasure from Treasure, a Ghana team given the audience award of $25,000, and The Cooperative Fund from Republic of Georgia, given the judges’ award of $75,000. A surprise gift of $50,000 was awarded to Teachers’ Resource Labs, India by Harbrinder Kang, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Cisco Systems, who shared that Network Academy’s 10-year goal was to impact one billion global problem solvers by 2025. The company believes in community participation and global philanthropy.

In an interview with Khabar, Ms. S. Gayatri Iyer, Senior Technical Specialist in the Girls’ Education Program, from Bangalore, and Dr. Vandana Mishra, program manager, Uttar Pradesh, Girls’ Education Program, shared their passion for empowering girls in STEM education especially from backward rural communities. Across the globe, women and girls fail to reach their full potential in STEM related careers, they explained. This problem is particularly acute in India where the gender gap is exacerbated by lack of equipment, resources, and creative teaching capacity, especially in schools in marginalized communities.

CARE’s Teachers’ Resource Lab model provides a platform for teachers to build capacities in science, math, and language and provides opportunities for children to use technology and engage in active, hands-on learning. The program coaches teachers to recognize and understand gender bias, enabling girls to maintain their confidence and interest in STEM. Supporting classrooms with on-site libraries, reference materials, and enabling technology, teachers develop in-house teaching and learning additives for children to conduct experiments. Children design and develop their own projects and workings models, which they periodically demonstrate to the entire community, breaking gender stereotypes and instilling confidence in girls.

Two pilot labs are fully functional and external evaluations demonstrate considerable student engagement and improved interest by girls in continuing science and math after grade 8. The Ministry of Education in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, has committed to scaling the innovation.

Initially, the model will be in 18 districts and then expanded across all 75 districts of the state, reaching 150,000 public school teachers and 15 million children. This requires support and nurturing of private and public sectors, in order to help girls fulfill their dream of becoming successful.

Congratulations to all teams—they share a common goal: to accelerate their program’s impact in a world that, despite significant gains over the past 25 years, finds more than 800 million in extreme poverty. Building on CARE’s strong tradition of evolving to meet critical humanitarian needs, the Scale X Design Accelerator serves as a catalyst for multiplying impact, in the same generous spirit that ignited a global movement more than 70 years ago.

The third accelerator program will focus on “Women’s Economic Empowerment.”

Website Bonus Feature



2018 teams included one from India and two from Bangladesh.


The Stanford University event on February 9, 2018:


One of the 2017 NYC winners: Krishi Utsho, Bangladesh
Krishi Utsho (KU) is a micro-franchise network of small kiosks that sell agriculture inputs, supplies, and services to farmers, particularly women, in rural Bangladesh.

[The article above contains additional material not in the print and digital issues.]

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