iSchool awarded grant to pursue global economic development

The University of Washington Information School has been awarded a Grand Challenges Explorations grant to pursue an innovative global health and development research project.

The $100,000 grant, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will go toward Assistant Professor Joshua Blumenstock’s project titled “Billions of transactions, thousands of photos: Combining mobile network operator data with crowd-sourced photographs to measure the availability and use of digital financial services.”

Blumenstock’s team, in partnership with Premise Data, will use two unconventional sources of data — transactional “big data” from mobile phone users and distributed, crowd-sourced photographs and observations — to model and validate trends in access to and use of digital financial services in Ghana and Pakistan. By providing better methods for understanding delivery and use of digital financial services in poor and marginalized communities, Blumenstock anticipates the project’s results will allow development efforts to better target and tailor services to support the most vulnerable segments of society.  

Blumenstock’s project is one of more than 50 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced Thursday, Nov. 12. The grants are part of a $100 million initiative to fund individuals worldwide to explore ideas aimed at solving persistent global health and development challenges.

More than 1,160 projects in more than 60 countries have received grants since the program was established in 2008. Projects that are awarded $100,000 initial grants are eligible to apply for follow-on grants of up to $1 million.