Loughborough-backed AT fund

UK Aid funding to support 10.5 million more people with access to life changing Assistive Technology through three innovative investments

Today, on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Loughborough University-backed Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) is proud to announce three new innovative investments to reach an additional 10.5 million people as part of the UK Aid funded AT2030 programme.

Globally, 900 million more people need access to Assistive Technology (AT) to take care of their health, go to work, to school or participate in their community. In a year when COVID has hit disabled people the hardest, with even less support available (especially in the Global South), the need to trial bold approaches could not be greater. 

The #DisabilityInnovations currently being tested to strive for disability inclusion, include:

1)      Stigma is one of the biggest issues faced by disabled people. We know from our experience of London 2012 the power disability positivity can make. Working alongside IPC (International Paralympic Committee) and Loughborough University we will bring the Tokyo Paralympics to up to 150 million people for the first time in free-to-air broadcast in at least 22 new countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Wrapping around a research and schools programme, linked to the IPC’s ‘I’m Possible’ programme, the programme will tackle stigma through Para sport and community engagement in Malawi, Ghana and Zambia.

2)      AT innovations often do not get to the people that need them because the market is still immature. GDI Hub has created a £4 million fund trialing impact investment to grow the Assistive Tech sector in Africa, and made its first investment this week.

Many AT inventions just haven't made it to scale. Innovators often struggle to get backing and find that the market just is not ready to take a risk on AT entrepreneurs, despite significant potential demand.

In other sectors facing similar challenges - for example, the solar homes market – it has been seen how grant funding (from UK Aid and others) played a vital role in helping to fill the gaps and attract follow-on investment, in this case bringing affordable power to millions of low-income households as a result.

The AT Impact Fund will scale Assistive Technology solutions that are designed for low- and middle-income populations and build the wider AT ecosystem in Africa, targeting products across the AT value chain, including innovative manufacturing, distribution and financing, and end-to-end service provision – because these are the known barriers to scale.

The AT Impact Fund is an investment vehicle that combines grant capital with ‘Scale Studio’ venture-building support delivered by experts in assistive technology, innovation and venture building.

It is delivered in partnership by GDI Hub, award-winning behavioural innovation experts Brink and global inclusive tech accelerator Catalyst Fund, led by BFA global and draws on experts from the AT2030 programme.

AT Impact Fund’s first investment is HearX, a first-of-its-kind company based in South Africa.

De Wet Swanepoel, Lead Inventor & Co-founder at HearX said:

“The hearX team is thrilled to work with the AT Impact Fund on this exciting project. The UK Aid investment through the AT2030 programme is allowing us to multiply our impact in Africa by creating innovative access to sustainable hearing health services in communities. Together with the hearX

Foundation we will scale up a novel solution from detection through to treatment with the potential to truly realise our vision of ‘healthy hearing for everyone, everywhere'.”

Mentors and investors are currently being sourced to join and match the early-stage funding by backing these businesses to scale.

3)     Country Capacity Assessments carried out last year revealed that foundational strategic investment in AT is needed. The GDI Hub’s £1 million Country Capacity Investment Fund (matched by countries themselves) will reach almost a million of the poorest people with disabilities in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda.

Following a competitive process, four investments totalling £1 million will be made in four African countries to trial strategic methods of reaching more people with access to AT. Building on the Country Capacity Assessments carried out under AT2030 with national governments using WHO tools, and working with CHAI and Maynooth University, GDI Hub will invest in innovative proposals.

In Nigeria, it will support the development of a unified AT strategy, improve disability and AT data to inform country needs, increase availability of quality assistive devices in the public and private sectors, and mobilise financial resources for assistive technology.

In Sierra Leone, it will establish a secretariat role for the country’s inaugural National Disability, Assistive Technology and Rehabilitation Technical Working Group, develop a national AT programme, support government ministries for the revision of the population census (to ensure AT inclusion), develop an AT strategy and policy, and create tools for disability and AT data collection.

In Liberia, it will establish a cross-sectoral AT Technical Working Group, develop an integrated national priority assistive product list, create national assistive product standards, procurement and service provision guidelines, build  AT coordination, procurement and supply management capacity of government ministries, develop a standardized AT training package, conduct pilot training, revitalise local AT repair and production, facilitate Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and government advocacy and support AT population-based assessments to integrate AT data into routine health information systems.

In Rwanda, it will develop a national AT data system that will inform decision making and policy implementation, develop national guidelines and standards for assistive products, improve the coverage of AT in the national health insurance package and strengthen national coordination mechanisms around AT.

Fre Seghers, Lead for Assistive Technology at CHAI said:

“We are grateful to UK Aid, GDI Hub and all our partners including Maynooth University and the World Health Organization that we are able to expand on the work that was initiated through the Country Capacity Assessments.

“This work with governments is both strategic and innovative. It will prepare the ground so that appropriate products and new solutions can reach people that need it faster, better and in a more sustainable manner. The AT2030 programme has demonstrated that strengthening the awareness and leadership of policymakers can spur action. This work will gather new insights and evidence for the community. We look forward to supporting UK Aid and Global Disability Innovation Hub in spearheading these new initiatives and moving boundaries on what is possible”.

 IPC President Andrew Parsons added:

“The IPC is very excited about the prospect of more people than ever before watching the Paralympic Games in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through sport the IPC wants to normalize and challenge the stigma attached to disability.

“One of the best ways to achieve this is through people watching the Paralympics and seeing first-hand what persons with disabilities can do. After seeing what a success London 2012 was, we know the UK Government are committed to the Paralympic movement and we are grateful to UK Aid for backing our vision; bringing para sport to up to 150m more people in Africa.”

GDI Hub are grateful for UK Aid for continuing to support this vital access to products like wheelchairs and hearing aids, for the world’s poorest people and their continued commitment to helping the bottom billion at this challenging time.

The GDI Hub also like to thank Hogan Lovells International LLP for its ongoing support of this ground-breaking programme.