The Ascend Learning and Innovation Fund

Accelerating the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases in West and Central Africa.


The Ascend West and Central Africa programme, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), is excited to announce a new cycle for the learning and innovation fund to accelerate the control and elimination efforts for up to five neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) – lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminths and trachoma.

Impact of COVID-19

In response to the global pandemic, on 1st April 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) issued interim guidance which encouraged NTD elimination programmes to temporarily suspend community-based activities where COVID-19 transmission had begun. National NTD programmes across the globe responded and interventions, including community-based surveys, active case-finding activities and mass treatment campaigns were suspended.

Rather than returning to “business as usual” once the pandemic has subsided, the global health community and partners must now adapt to a new normal. There is an opportunity to harness the lessons learned from this crisis to minimise the risks of COVID-19 whilst also accelerating the interruption of NTDs.

In this context of a drastically changed NTD landscape, the fund is seeking innovative proposals to explore how adaptive NTD delivery can be supported to help reinstate government NTD programmes. The challenge is to be even more innovative and to ‘build back better’, not only preserving the previous gains made, but exploring potential to accelerate the interruption of NTDs.

The strong success of NTD programmes to date has relied on solid partnerships and community involvement. We believe that the NTD community will continue to come together to help face this global challenge, while remaining wholly committed to our joint aim of contributing to the control and elimination of NTDs.

Please see our Fund Guidelines for more information on COVID-19 and how our fund is adapting to the evolving pandemic.

What is the Ascend Learning and Innovation Fund?

The fund sits within the three-year Ascend West and Central Africa programme, which is an integrated programme aiming to make major progress towards eliminating these painful and poverty-trapping NTDs. The programme will deliver more than 400 million treatments, helping several countries to make significant progress, in line with the WHO 2030 NTD Roadmap.

The Ascend Learning and Innovation Fund can provide grants between £25,000 and £350,000 to support a flexible range of NTD-focused activities, from research to large-scale implementation, across 13 countries in West and Central Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone).

We also encourage multi-country proposals which are implemented in Ascend East Africa (led by Crown Agents). FCDO are prioritising projects which have an impact across the Africa region and where evidence and lessons learnt can benefit both programmes.

The fund seeks to enhance the quality of effective NTD programming by validating innovative ideas and assisting the transition of programme learning into scalable and sustainable outcomes.

The fund offers the opportunity to be creative and do things differently – to explore innovations, respond to emerging gaps, solve identified needs, and transition operational findings into scalable programming.

What does the Innovation Fund offer?

The Ascend Learning and Innovation Fund offers applicants the opportunity to:

  • Explore innovations that can range from the ‘brand new’ to creative ways of applying / adapting / scaling existing approaches.

  • Support programme adaption by responding to learning, contributing to the global evidence base.

  • Support the transition of operational findings into scalable programming.

  • Support activities that complement and add value to the Ascend West and Central Africa programme and beyond.

When do applications open?

The Fund consists of four application windows. Applications for Cycle 2 open on 9 October 2020 and will close 6 November 2020. Cycles 1 – 4 will be open to all applicants; Cycle 4 will be restricted to existing projects or partners funded through the previous cycles. All project activities and reports must be completed and submitted by 31 January 2022 at the latest.

Who can apply?

This fund is open to a range of organisations. If you have a fantastic evidence-based idea, we want to hear about it and help turn it into a project.

Please note applicants must be affiliated with eligible organisations. Eligible organisations may include but are not limited to Ascend consortia partners, governmental institutions, non-profit organisations, academic institutions and for-profit businesses.

We cannot accept applications from unaffiliated individuals. Organisations must pass due diligence and compliance checks before any funds are released. Further details on eligibility are included in our fund guidelines. For more information on our due diligence and compliance checks, please download our compliance guidelines.

How much funding is available?

Individual grants are available, ranging from £25,000 to £350,000. Applicants are required to specify on application the amount of investment needed for their proposal.

What should my proposal address?

We are seeking project proposals that address one of the five following challenge statements:

Challenge 1: COVID-19 – How can adaptive NTD delivery ‘build back better’ in the context of COVID 19 pandemic?

Challenge 2: Collaboration and multisectoral action – How can NTD interventions leverage synergies arising from collaborations across diseases, sectors and borders?

Challenge 3: Universal Health Coverage (UHC) – How can we enhance access to, and quality of, NTD treatment and prevention services in the context of UHC?

Challenge 4: Health systems strengthening – How can we ensure long-term, in-country sustainability for NTD programmes?

Challenge 5: Data systems – How can we increase the quality and availability of NTD data at all levels to better inform NTD programming?

Please refer to the fund guidelines for further details on the above challenge statements.  If you have identified a particular challenge that falls outside of the above that is relevant to the control and elimination of NTDs, we still want to know. Please send an email to [email protected] to discuss further.

What is the application process?

The selection process involves reviewers from Ascend partners and FCDO and consists of the following stages:

1. Concept Application: Submit an overview of your proposed idea, the problem it is seeking to address, and how your proposal seeks to solve that issue. Applicants successful at this stage will be invited to the next round.

2. Detailed Application: Selected applicants will submit an in-depth application and detailed budget, plus letter of support from the relevant government department, for example the Ministry of Health, where the project will be implemented. This will be assessed by our Expert Panel.

Applications that are successful at the Detailed Application stage will be recommend to FCDO for investment, who will make the final decision.

How do I submit an application?

You can download a Concept Application and submit the completed form to [email protected] by 17:00 (GMT), 6th November 2020.

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