The Big Ideas Competition

The annual Big Ideas@Berkeley competition challenges students to identify and tackle real-world social and environmental problems. The competition was launched at UC Berkeley in 2006 and currently offers up to $300,000 per year in prizes to interdisciplinary teams of graduate and undergraduate students. Applicants receive invaluable support as they develop their ideas, including information sessions, writing and budgeting workshops, graduate student advising, networking opportunities and an 8 week mentorship period where students work with industry and civil society professionals.

Expansion Across HESN

With DIL support, The Big Ideas competition is expanding in scope and geographic reach.  Five categories are open to students across USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network, at UC Berkeley, The College of William and Mary, Duke University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, and Texas A&M University.

DIL Sponsored Competition Categories

For the 2014-2015 competition cycle, we are proud to be sponsoring five categories with the continued support and guidance of USAID and the Grand Challenges initiative, and integrating new partners and widening the network of potential applicants:

Global Health

The challenge for this category is to describe an action-oriented, inter-disciplinary project that would help alleviate a global health concern among low-resource communities. Proposals submitted to this category should a) demonstrate an evidence of a widespread health concern faced by low-income populations or low-resource communities, and b) develop a system, plan, or technology that addresses this problem that is both culturally appropriate within the target communities, and appropriate for low-resource settings.

Food Systems Innovation

The aim of this category is to encourage the development of innovative solutions or approaches that address challenges in food systems, or that will result in progress or changes to support food security, sustainability and/or justice and health in food systems, and/or equitable access to nutritious food. Proposals may be aimed at campus based program, local/domestic issues or international efforts.

Mobiles for Reading

The challenge for this category is to develop novel mobile technology-based innovations to enhance reading scores for early grade children in developing countries. Alternatively, proposals may use existing mobile-based technologies to improve early grade reading scores by adapting or applying those technologies in new and innovative ways. For the scope of this competition, mobiles devices include cell phones, e-readers, tablet computers, audio/visual devices, and any other mobile (i.e. portable) technologies that can educate young readers, rapidly produce materials, log data, and engage marginalized students to learn to read.

Conflict and Development

The challenge for this category is to develop a proposal on a Big Idea that will prevent, mitigate, or help resolve conflict. There are no requirements for specific countries or areas for proposals, rather we are looking for solutions that could make an impact in any fragile or conflict- affected area.

Open Data for Development

The challenge for this category is to develop a plan that leverages publicly available datasets to innovate solutions and address important development challenges. Applicants may submit projects in a number of areas, including but not limited to mapping visualizations, transparency and accountability feedback loops, crowd-sourcing tools, monitoring and evaluation applications, methodological contributions, randomized control trials, and spatial analysis. Strong consideration will be given to projects that can demonstrate broad impact, sustainability, and scalability to multiple countries or underserved areas.

Big Ideas Toolkit

The Big Ideas Toolkit is an easy to use, adaptable framework for universities  and others to adopt and learn from the Big Ideas competition model.

Tap into the creativity and ingenuity of  your local problem solvers to foster development innovation!

Finding Big Ideas Contest

This pilot program seeks to spread awareness about promising development innovations, regardless of where they originate. Finding Big Ideas challenges students who are engaged in international or national fieldwork, volunteering or other travel to document existing, local, innovative solutions to social challenges and explore their potential for broader application. These solutions may be technological, economic, or social innovations that significantly improve quality of life in the local context. The Blum Center works with winning students to refine and share their experiences and lessons learned. A trial-run essay contest is being held to explore this exciting new approach. CLOSED. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR APPLICATIONS! Applications for the pilot year of the Finding Big Ideas Essay Contest were due October 1, 2013. Eligible students include those affiliated with DIL and the DevEng Seminar series, anyone enrolled in the Global Poverty & Practice Minor or the Masters of Development Practice program, and all student members of the finalists team in the main 2013 Big Ideas@Berkeley competition. For questions or for feedback on your idea, contact us at the email in the below link, after reading the full Contest Entry document. Click the link below for entry information.

Download Here

Big Ideas Innovators Ecosystem

Several new initiatives offer additional support to Big Ideas students, helping them acquire the skills and tap into the networks they need to launch their innovations. These include university partnerships with off-campus incubators, a Big Ideas social enterprise course, and resources to help students access new funding and a larger mentor network. Check back here soon and review the relevant section of the Big Ideas web page for a complete list of resources that have been developed to help scale projects and put students’ game-changing ideas into action.


These student-initiated, student-led working groups share knowledge, investigate problems, and identify key opportunities within an area of global significance. The pinnacle goal of the IdeaLabs is to engage graduate and undergraduate students across disciplines, providing a hotbed for developing and testing innovative applications, technologies, or services that advance standards of human well-being. Learn more.