Inspire Challenge 2020

Demonstrating the power of big data analytics through inspiring and innovative p


Global agriculture is increasingly driven by data. Advances in computing power, data storage, and data communications over the last 30 years have given rise to powerful tools for helping make farming and food systems more precise, profitable, and adaptive. Newer digital innovations — including machine learning, the expansion of connected sensor technologies, and robotics — promise more dramatic changes in the farming landscape in the near future.

The Inspire Challenge is CGIAR’s signature digital innovation process. It leverages the global footprint and deep food security subject matter expertise of CGIAR with expert industry partners to link digital technologies to impact in developing economies.


Two steps to apply:

  1. Find your partner using this form. More details below.
  2. Fill out the application form with your partnership details.
Important dates:

Partner Search closes: 1 August
Inspire Challenge closes: 15 August


Winning teams will receive $100,000 to put their ideas into practice.

Teams will have 12 months to implement small-scale proof of concept pilots to demonstrate viability.

Successful pilots will be placed on the trajectory to wider-scale implementation, including the possibility of receiving an additional $250,000 of scale-up funding. Successful pilots will also have additional help in finding continued funding and widespread adoption within CGIAR, to ensure that these innovations become a part of how we operate system-wide.


  • Bridges the deep subject matter expertise of CGIAR researchers with the capabilities of external partners
  • Challenges research organizations to partner with industry in order to leverage public good data
  • Robust, established application and review process evaluated on the following:
    • SCALE – The project has potential to serve the needs of a growing user base and the interface is well designed and specific to the problem, with the data, procedure for use, and code base well documented.
    • INNOVATION – Proposal is a real game changer with the potential to transform food systems. It is not basic research nor solely targeted towards sustaining ongoing research.
    • IMPACT – Enhances stakeholder ability to make decisions problem statement, rationale, process and outputs of the product clearly support decision making affecting the farm level.
    • PITCH QUALITY – Pitch and demonstration is compelling, well organised, and clearly illustrates the relationship of the problem to the proposed solution.
    • DATA USE – Combines multiple data sources and adds value to them through data fusion or analysis, mobilizing underused or misused data – especially CGIAR data.
    • SUSTAINABILITY – Narrative clearly indicates hardware, software, human resources required to install/maintain/run the product, and good documentation is provided.


Digital Innovation and COVID-19

The current crisis provides an opportunity to test a key part of our theory of change: that data and digital tools bring critical capabilities for agile adaptation in food systems.

Two new categories, codesigned with funders, for 2020 are directly relevant to the current crisis:

  • Sustaining Farm Income will link sustainable practices in food systems directly back to farm income. It provides a mechanism for digital innovations for (re)building resilient, inclusive agricultural value chains at a time that will be important for COVID-19 recovery.
  • Measuring and Building Resilience will leverage the vast amount of data and applied research methods to understand and operationalize resilience in target food systems.

The Inspire Challenge first-stage grants process will run mostly as planned, but targeting specific response, recovery, and resilience metrics added to the judging rubric in all challenge categories.

The two other Inspire Challenge categories also hold great potential for targeting digital innovation towards response, recovery, and resilience related to the food security challenges unfolding from the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Sensing and Renewing Ecosystems links ecosystem services to long-term resilience of food systems (which could include, for example, managing future risk of zoonotic disease).
  • Revealing Food Systems sources and implements novel, high-frequency methods for tracing and understanding food flows (an important capability for monitoring and predicting emergent food security shocks before they become acute).

As a result, the 2020 Inspire Challenge startup grant evaluation will include specific COVID-19 response, recovery, and resilience metrics added to the judging rubric.



We are looking for novel approaches that democratize data-driven insights to inform local, national, regional, and global policies and applications in agriculture and food security in real time; helping people–especially smallholder farmers and producers–to lead happier and healthier lives.

All teams participating must be comprised of a variety of actors to ensure a diversity of thought and perspectives. To encourage long-term adoption and easy access to our data, they must include a CGIAR center and be embedded within a CGIAR Research Program, and include a non-CGIAR entity of any type.

Please use this simple partnership matching form.

Upon submitting your request, you will periodically receive the profiles of potential partners who match with your profile, candidates can reach out to each other to see if there is mutual interest. Applicants are responsible for their own follow-ups. If you already have a partner and an idea you are excited to put forward for the 2020 Inspire Challenge, this form is not a necessary step in the application process.

Once Challengers have formed their collaborative team by aligning with a CGIAR partner, they can submit their application.

Inspire Challenges are about solving big problems using next-generation ideas. We’re looking for bold, novel ideas that leverage the expansion of big data and digital technologies to unlock new scientific discoveries or enhance the agriculture development enterprise.

We want innovative ideas with promising potential for social impact that use open data to solve development problems faster, cheaper and with greater efficiency.

Proposals for funding basic research (where the path to positive impacts is still unclear) or targeted towards sustaining ongoing research, will probably be considered unresponsive to the Challenge.

Applications must fall in one of the above-displayed categories.

We’re looking for big ideas, but recognize that big risks do not always work out. This is why we will be measuring the impact of the approaches developed and systematically learning from successes as well as failures; documenting along the way to help drive future investments in big data-related agricultural innovations.

Lessons learned will be documented and published, alongside policy briefs and best practice guidelines, which will be shared with our network to improve the next generation of big data in agriculture research.

The preliminary assessment will be managed by the Inspire Challenge management team for their responsiveness to the key criteria of the Challenge.

This pre-assessment focuses on three key aspects:

  • Meaningful collaboration
    Leveraging partners’ capabilities to create something more than the sum of its parts.
  • Innovativeness of the proposal
    How new or groundbreaking the idea is.
  • Data mobilization of underused or misused data\
    Especially mobilizing CGIAR data.

While the use of CGIAR data streams is encouraged, all forms of CGIAR + outside organization collaboration demonstrating leading-edge uses of data are applicable for this prize.

Finalists of this pre-assessment will be notified and invited to present their proposals to a panel of judges and their peers at the Platform for Big Data in Agriculture Convention in Lima, Peru from October 21-23, 2020. The judging panel will be comprised of leading sector experts from public, private, and non-profit sectors.


August 15, 2020
Organizer CGIAR
Website Visit website
Africa, Antarctica Region, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Europe, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Kiribati, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Nicaragua, Northern America, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela
Sectors Agribusiness, Big data, EdTech, HealthTech, ICT