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Innovation Challenge

Innovating for an AIDS-free future for girls and women



Innovation Challenge

Innovating for an AIDS-free future for girls and women


Traditional approaches are not enough to substantially change the status quo

DREAMS is committed to achieving a 40 percent reduction in HIV infection among adolescent girls and young women in the highest-burden areas of 10 sub-Saharan African countries by the end of 2017. To support this goal, the Challenge is investing $85 million for innovative solutions that further DREAMS' commitment to reducing HIV among the most vulnerable to infection. The Challenge aims to infuse new thinking and creative approaches to meet the urgent, complex needs of girls and women in the DREAMS countries to give them the opportunity to develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-FreeMentored, and Safe women.

Congratulations to the Challenge Winners!

The DREAMS Partnership is excited to announce 55 winners selected to implement innovative solutions in DREAMS districts, across all 10 DREAMS countries and six Challenge Focus Areas. DREAMS received over 800 ideas, with more than half of winning ideas submitted by new partners and small, community‐based organizations. Thank you to all who submitted expressions of interest and applications to the Challenge.


Focus Areas

Focus Areas


CHAllenge Focus Areas

The Challenge generated more than 800 innovative ideas, with nearly half of selected ideas originating from new partners.  

The winners proposed new approaches that apply to the six Focus Areas below in the 10 DREAMS countries, offer sustainable solutions that may be scaled or replicated to lead to long-lasting change, and demonstrate readiness for rapid implementation within two years. Winners are implementing their solutions over two years in the target districts of one or more of the 10 DREAMS countries: Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.



Focus Area 1:  Strengthening Capacity of Communities to deliver services

The Need

Strengthening the leadership and capacity of community-based organizations is key to improving delivery of health-related services. The Challenge is investing in innovative solutions to strengthen the leadership and capacity of community-based organizations, such as nonprofits, indigenous, and/or grassroots organizations, to support the expansion of interventions included in the DREAMS Core Package. 

Winning Innovation

Girls and women often have little say in the decisions that affect them in Lesotho. One Challenge winner is creating an empowering and participatory documentary film to give them a platform to be heard. Once the film is complete, the girls will be trained to use the video as a tool to advocate for their rights.

Focus Area 2:  Keeping Girls in Secondary School

The Need

The Challenge is investing $40 million in innovative solutions focused on keeping girls in secondary school, which dramatically reduces their vulnerability to HIV infection. A recent case study in Botswana compared the benefits of one additional year of education for young women. For girls with 10 years of education instead of just nine, the risk for HIV infection was cut nearly in half. This is a potential game changer, particularly as girls and young women account for 74 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Winning Innovations

Public libraries are a unique gateway for linking girls at risk of HIV infection to information and services that empower them to develop life skills, prevent HIV, and stay in school. One Challenge winner in Zambia is establishing new mentoring programs in public libraries to tackle discriminatory gender norms, provide health education, and foster girls’ resilience and determination to succeed.

Another winner is working to increase secondary school retention among pregnant girls and young mothers in Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. The organization is developing an early warning system to detect girls most at risk of drop-out, address harmful norms, and link them to health services.

Focus Area 3:  Linking Men to Services

The Need

The Challenge is investing in pioneer solutions to engage young and adult men and inform and link them to HIV counseling and testing, treatment, and voluntary medical male circumcision services. Engaging men in discussions about sexual and reproductive health can result in behavior change in both men and women, and result in increased condom use, less transactional sex, less substance abuse, and increased couple communication.

Winning Innovations

A holistic community approach is vital to ending AIDS as a public health threat. One winner implementing in Zambia is reaching out to men at nightclubs to help decrease unsafe sex and transactional sex work.

Another winner in Kenya designed a solution that is engaging men through sports. By bringing pitch-side HIV testing, counselling, and local voluntary medical male circumcision services, they will reduce the risk of HIV infection for up to 11,000 adolescent girls and young women. Kenyan soccer coaches are being trained to teach adolescent men about health issues on the pitch using interactive soccer coaching drills.

Focus Area 4:  Supporting Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis

The Need

Pre-exposure phrophylaxis (PrEP) is a way for people who do not have HIV, but who are at substantial risk of contracting it, to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. This oral antiretroviral medication provides another effective option for prevention for people at high risk of HIV exposure. 

Winning Innovations

One winner in Kenya is working with popular musicians and celebrities to engage the public and create a dialogue around the benefits of PrEP. They are using interactive websites, peer educators, and support groups to incorporate PrEP into conversations and create consumer-driven demand for the medication.

Another winner is implementing and comparing two strategies for PrEP delivery to women at risk of HIV infection. They are employing a data-driven approach to assess which strategy works best for wide use and support the creation of a national strategy that incorporates women's preferences and maximizes use of existing infrastructure to work towards ending AIDS as a public health threat.

Focus Area 5:  Providing a Bridge to Employment

The Need

The Challenge is investing in solutions that provide a post-secondary school bridge to employment for young women (ages 19 to 24) to decrease their risk for transactional sex work and HIV. The availability and accessibility of employment opportunities can be critical factors in deterring young women from transactional sex work and significantly decreasing their exposure risk to HIV.

Winning Innovations

One winner from Mozambique is focusing on micro-franchising businesses. As these businesses become market ready, the program selects, trains, empowers, and supports young women to manage and operate the businesses. The program promotes entrepreneurship, job creation, and capacity building.

Another winner is implementing a demand-driven skills building program to improve employability prospects and income generating capacity for 1,000 disadvantaged girls in low-income households. The girls are learning technical, life, and business skills, including financial literacy and coding. They are also receiving job placement support.

Focus Area 6:  Applying Data to Increase Impact

The Need

The Challenge is investing in innovative opportunities to increase the availability and use of data for DREAMS to inform policy and increase program impact. Solutions in this area are helping unlock datasets, fill data gaps, and improve data accessibility and use at the local and subnational levels. The collection, use, and release of actionable data is helping target populations at the greatest risk in geographic areas with the highest HIV/AIDS burden. 

Winning Innovations

One winner is implementing a tool in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to gather real-time feedback from the young women they support on aspects of their health and well-being. The solution is enabling programmers to quickly determine what is working, where, and why, and, in turn, allow for agile changes to implementation activities for improved results.

Another winner is deploying a multi-channel HIV/AIDS surveillance platform in Tanzania that uses mobile technologies and GIS mapping to provide a centralized location for two-way interactive communication and crowdsourcing data from DREAMS districts. This platform assists the Ministry of Health in monitoring and reacting to information in real-time to inform the mobilization of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment resources.


Meet the Winners

Meet the Winners

Congratulations to the Winners!

DREAMS Announced winners at the 2016 international Aids Conference

The 55 winners below proposed new approaches to be applied to one or more of the six Challenge Focus Areas implemented in the 10 DREAMS countries. They offer sustainable solutions that may be scaled or replicated in on one or more of the DREAMS countries to lead to long-lasting change, and demonstrate readiness for rapid implementation within two years.

Afya Mzuri

Amref Health

Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team

Athena Network

Badilika Foundation

Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme

Brick and Brick Uganda

Camfed Malawi

Cecily Eastwood Zambian AIDS Orphans Appeal


College of William and Mary

Community Media Trust Kenya

Community Media Trust South Africa

Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust

Drexel University

Family Health International

Femina HIP Ltd.

Future of the African Daughter Project

Girl MOVE Foundation


Hope for Victoria Children

HOPE Worldwide Zambia

ICS Africa


International Development Law Organization

Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV/AIDS

Latkings Outreach Program

Lubuto Library Partners

Mercy Corps

Nyanza Initiative for Girls' Education and Empowerment


Ogra Foundation

Peer ProjectSupport

Population Council, Inc.

Premise Data Corporation

Rede Contra Abuso de Menores

Save the Children Federation, Inc.

Sesotho Media & Development

SisterLove, Inc.

Stichting AIDS Fonds- STOP AIDS NOW!



The African Centre for Women, Information & Communications Technology

Touch Roots Africa


University of Washington

University of the Witwatersrand

Ushahidi Inc.


VOTO Mobile

Witkoppen Health and Welfare Centre

Wizarts Foundation

World Education, Inc./ Bantwana Initiative

World Vision, Inc.

Youth Advocates

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Application & Selection Process

Application & Selection Process

Application & Selection DETAILS

The DREAMS Partnership received more than 800 Expressions of Interest (EOIs) from more than 680 organizations proposing innovative ideas to address the six Challenge focus areas. The DREAMS Partnership reviewed each EOI and Application in detail and selected a group of 55 winners whose solutions were among the most promising with best alignment to the objectives of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge. 


Application Guidance

The purpose of the Challenge is to infuse new thinking and approaches that build on the evidence-informed interventions already being implemented through the DREAMS Core Package.

The Challenge defined innovative solutions as including one or more of the following approaches:

  • Offering new ways of applying, adapting, delivering or developing an existing solution
  • Developing ideas that come from adolescent girls and young women and involving them in implementation
  • Using different partnership models to work with local organizations and across sectors
  • Finding sustainable solutions that lead to long-lasting change
  • Utilizing new and appropriate science or technology
  • Demonstrating a cost-effective way to reach impact more effectively for more adolescent girls and young women, or in a shorter period of time

The Challenge is not intended to support evidence-informed, traditional interventions that are already being implemented as part of the DREAMS Core Package. Solutions which rely solely on standard practice, are less effective than current technologies or approaches, or involve basic research or laboratory-intensive research were not considered. See the Opportunity Announcement for more details on the DREAMS definition of innovation.


DREAMS encouraged applications from most types of organization, including for-profit, non-profit, academic organizations, and multilateral organizations.

Applicants could submit approaches that apply to just one of the Challenge Focus Areas or that cut across numerous issues. The Challenge greatly encouraged applications from organizations that have not previously received U.S. government funding, either directly or indirectly, and/or are based in one or more of the 10 DREAMS countries. Additionally, existing partners were also eligible to apply; however, a portion of the awards were reserved for new partners.

Ineligible entities included individuals, foreign governments, and U.S. government institutions. Colleges, universities, and research facilities that are funded by and/or affiliated with a government were not considered a government. See the Opportunity Announcement for a detailed list of eligibility criteria.


DREAMS selected winners for each DREAMS country and each of the Focus Areas and offered a wide range of funding support, from $100,000 to $40 million. 

After eligibility review, a DREAMS panel of reviewers scored each application using a set of selection criteria designed to assess the solution’s strategic alignment, impact, innovative approach, and cost effectiveness, as well as the organization’s capacity and track record for implementation. 

Applicants were expected to apply for funding commensurate to need and their organizations' ability to manage and deploy funds. Applicant's average annual revenue/income (over the last three years) should exceed the size of the annual funding request by at least 50 percent. Refer to the Opportunity Announcement for a detailed description of selection criteria.

Selection Criteria

Application Timeline

The Challenge had a two-stage application process, including an Expression of Interest and Finalist Application. 

All interested applicants submitted an initial Expression of Interest in March 2016. In May 2016, DREAMS invited finalists to submit an Application, which provided more information about the proposed solution to enable a detailed evaluation. The Application window closed on May 31, 2016. Winners were notified and announced to the public at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, on July 18, 2016.

Challenge winners will implement their innovative solutions in the DREAMS districts over the next two years.  

Note that awards are conditional on winners meeting terms and conditions of U.S. government funding or the respective DREAMS private sector partner. Thank you to all who submitted applications to the Challenge! We look forward to future opportunities to engage the DREAMS community of solvers. Follow PEPFAR on social media for future updates on DREAMS and other opportunities.

What's Next





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Photo Credits: Girl Effect, Irene Angwenyi/USAID Kenya, and USAID Southern Africa