The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recently announced the winners of its Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, and hosted the 16 awardees in Washington, D.C., for an Acceleration Bootcamp and Innovators Showcase.
The challenge is a USAID-led initiative—in partnership with National Geographic, the Smithsonian, and TRAFFIC—to crowdsource technological innovations from around the globe to help combat illegal wildlife trade. The challenge was previously featured in trajectory magazine in 2014, and is a key part of USAID’s role in combatting wildlife trafficking as outlined in the National Strategy released the same year.
Three hundred individuals or teams from 52 countries submitted challenge applications with innovations ranging from wildlife surveillance systems to data mining tools. Each of the 300 applications was evaluated, and the applications of 44 finalists were sent on for judging by a panel of experts in law enforcement, technical conservation, and software.
“Winners were chosen based on technical excellence, potential for impact, and potential to scale,” said Cynthia Gill, director of the Office of Forestry and Biodiversity at USAID, and also a judge on the panel.
Although the applications featured technology in a variety of developmental stages, emphasis was placed upon potential, Gill added.
The prize winners each received $10,000 and attended a two-day “bootcamp,” in which experts in wildlife conservation, law enforcement, and business development taught skills in strategic partnerships, market strategy, and business models to help ensure the prototypes transition into the field.
“The winners had access to investors and learned more about securing investment. They learned from law enforcement agents to get a sense of what kind of evidence is the most important,” Gill said. “There were a lot of resources to help them further their technology in different ways.”
Prize winners also practiced their pitches throughout the bootcamp, which culminated in an Innovators Showcase. At the showcase, each winner presented a three-minute pitch to government officials and leaders from the private sector, conservation NGOs, and multilateral donors.
Binomial Solutions, based in India, was awarded a prize for its e-Eye solar-powered wildlife surveillance system, which provides a “24/7 vigil” by helping to secure parks, control inaccessible areas, analyze trends, detect intrusions, give alerts, and manage patrols.
“The idea is to convert the data into information and generate an alert before the crime takes place,” said Ravikant Singh, CEO and managing director of Binomial Solutions. He added, “It feels great to be a part of such a wonderful initiative. Wildlife crime is [a big] challenge in today’s world, and the idea of bringing all technology innovators together to fight against the crime is really commendable.”
London-based Mars Omega won with its cloud-based JIGSAW intelligence and planning software application, which has been provided to the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya for the last five years as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility policy.
“There is a remarkable range of technologies developed by the prize winners,” said Chis Holtom, a partner in Mars Omega. “However, unless we prize winners and many others can become a ‘Team of Teams’ (quoting U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal) the fight against wildlife crime and the illicit trade will remain uncoordinated.”
The challenge is now entering its final stage, in which the 16 winners will compete for one of four grand prizes ranging from $50,000 to $500,000. Grand prize winners will be announced later in 2016, and the project goes through September 2017, with all winners receiving access to further technical expertise and networking support throughout the next year.
The Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge is just one element of USAID’s broader focus and approximately $55 million annual budget to fight wildlife crime by making it a higher risk, lower reward activity, according to Gill.
A video of the pitches from the Innovators Showcase will be available on the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge website soon.
Photo credit: USAID