By Sowmya Rajan

Creating a lasting impact that addresses complex global health challenges needs more than a game-changing innovation. Strong partnerships are needed at every stage of the innovation’s growth trajectory, from ideation, to implementation and scale. Some of these partnerships, established at the right time with the right stakeholders, can transform the innovation’s development and its pathway to scale. But what are the crucial partnerships that innovators need, and how can funders support innovators in establishing such partnerships?

The Saving Lives at Birth (SL@B) program, a partnership of global health funders aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality, provided funding to grantees and strategic connections. Through the Evaluation of SL@B (ESL@B) program, we examine how the program fostered partnerships and offered technical support to address innovators’ most critical needs for partnerships. We analyzed qualitative data from an interview sample of 18 SL@B innovators and 61 responses from an online survey for SL@B innovators with a response rate of 54%. Based on our analyses, we determined that innovators valued most three key elements of SL@B’s support in facilitating partnerships:

  • Convening of stakeholders organized by SL@B through the DevelopmentXchange (DevX).  DevX is an annual event organized by the SL@B program that convenes current SL@B grantees, finalists, and funders and other potential partners. Innovators noted that the DevX provided a valuable environment in which to initiate conversations with potential partners, connect with key stakeholders, and engage and learn from other innovators.
  • Capacity building and technical assistance to make business plans and pitch decks. SL@B provided capacity-building support to its grantees at DevX as well as technical assistance through its accelerator. Grantees gained a much stronger understanding of business plans and pitch decks and scaling pathways through different stakeholders and partnerships. This non-financial support was instrumental in aiding grantees in attracting the right partners for their growth and scaling trajectory.
  • Targeted matchmaking by SL@B. For some innovators, SL@B’s hands-on grants management support included introductions to strategic stakeholders facilitated by program staff. Such partnerships were transformative in the scaling pathway of the innovations; they made faster progress than those without such partnerships.

The ESL@B program also came up with three data-driven recommendations for the SL@B program and other funders in the innovation community seeking to support grantees by encouraging partnerships to advance their innovations.

  • Implement tailored strategies to facilitate targeted connections for innovators consistently and proactively. Innovators at different growth stages need different kinds of partners to continue to make progress. Funders must recognize their needs and strategically provide connections for their grantees, including with other funders in the space.
  • Engage low- and middle-income country (LMIC) national and subnational stakeholders early, and jointly to determine priorities. Early engagement with LMIC stakeholders helps funders understand priorities, secure buy-in for proven innovations, and launch collaborations.
  • Engage with procurement platforms to support validated innovations. Innovations, particularly those that are product-based, need to have sustained and stable demand to be able to manufacture and distribute at scale. Programs such as SL@B can ensure stable production and demand by facilitating global distribution of innovative products into countries where they are needed.

The SL@B program played an important role in the growth trajectory of several innovations by providing crucial non-financial support in the form of partnerships needed to move an innovation from ideation to impact. To learn more about SL@B and recommendations for other funders, please read Partnerships for Impact.

Partnerships for Impact: The SL@B Approach to Fostering Connections