Securing the future of MSF’s global innovation fund


Médecins Sans Frontières

“From the start Orwell understood what we were trying to achieve. We worked on our messaging and explored different avenues to get that message out to staff on the ground.

The outcomes were exactly what we were after. We surpassed the number of applicants from all previous calls to submit and we had our first submissions from national staff.”

Pete Masters
Medical Innovation Advisor, MSF

Project outcomes

  • 150% increase on applications from previous call for applicants
  • 80% of applications from staff in the field – highest ever for the fund
  • The first ever National Staff applicants to the fund
  • Unique page views for the Sapling Nursery web page increased 21% from the last call for submissions
  • Non-Europe page views up 35% and direct entrances to the page increasing by 60%

What I did

Communication design
Web page design
User funnel development
Research interpretation

The problem

Pete Masters – “As in many large organisations, MSF sometimes struggles to provide opportunities to its staff on the ground to innovate for the future. Previous Sapling Nursery proposals have mainly come from our headquarters staff and specialists. They’re still great ideas, but it can mean that they aren’t always representative of the current needs of those working in the field, face to face with our patients.”

I was asked to find a way to increase the number of applicants to the Sapling Nursery fund from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff and to attract the first applications from national staff members.

The Sapling Nursery is a fund MSF staff can access to test innovative ideas that could improve patient care. Previous attempts to promote the fund have had a short reach and no national staff members (MSF staff working within the country they are from) have ever applied.

Due to its name, the little-known fund is often thought of as a literal plant nursery. Most staff aren’t aware of the research the fund has enabled or the positive impact previous projects are having on care within the organisation.

The majority of MSF staff are patient focused. The structure and nature of operations are such that getting non-essential information to the ground can be difficult. People in the command chain may not be able to give time for information about Sapling Nursery to be passed to staff members. This means any information we want to share must be delivered quickly and be easy to digest. This also means we must give as much information as possible about the fund as we don’t know how long an interested person could spend doing their own research.

The big questions

Our two main questions were, how can we change staff perceptions of the fund so they know what it is and how to access it? And how could we increase awareness of the fund to national staff and increase the number of applicants as a whole?

Every week staff on the ground come together to be briefed by their Project Coordinators or Medical Team Leaders. We used this meeting as the point to deliver information about the fund.

The Sapling Nursery web page was text heavy with poor information flow. I reviewed the page and made suggestions to improve the flow of information and give multiple points for people to apply to the fund.

The strategy

I created a poster in the three main MSF languages, English, French and Arabic, communicating the key points of the fund.

I drew attention to the key points – the money available, the time frame and the stipulations – to raise interest and invite applications. I focused the reader by delivering the information in a clear hierarchy led by the benefits of the fund. I gave the reader multiple ways into the design so that if they read it for five minutes or five seconds they would understand the key information and would know how to apply.

To smooth the delivery of the information to staff in the field, the Project Coordinator’s role was limited. They were asked to print the poster, placed it on a noticeboard and make staff aware that it was there. Their role was minimised to make getting the information to staff as frictionless as possible.

Paired with the poster design I advised on how to improve the Sapling Nursery web page. I took a sales approach and drew up funnels for site visitors at different stages of the application process. The aim was to remove the barriers to applications. Staff ready to apply were given immediate access to the application page. Staff at other stages in the decision process were provided with case studies of previous applicants and shown how the process works step by step. The URL for the page was simplified and placed prominently on the poster design. After the changes were made to the Sapling Nursery page, the average time spent on the page increased by 34% on the previous call for applications.

Huge success

The project was a huge success with over 20 applications to the fund, nearly as many as all of the previous proposals combined. 16 applicants came from the field with 7 of those from national staff, the main goals for the project were smashed.

Unique page views for the Sapling Nursery page increased 21% from the last call for submissions with non-Europe page views up 35%. After the URL was simplified, direct entrances to the page increased 60% meaning more people were coming directly to the page rather than rerouting from elsewhere on the MSF site.

Positive consequences

After seeing the poster, a team leader in Congo requested materials so she could deliver a workshop on the fund to explain more about the fund. MSF received four applications from staff that attended the workshop. This showed an appetite on the ground for supporting the fund and has allowed the Sapling Nursery team to prepare more substantial collateral for the next call for submissions.

From the applications three have been chosen and are now being developed. The Lean Chemical Weapons Kit (LCWK), task-based modelling for safe nurse staffing levels and malnutrition screening toolbox for children under 6-months old are on their way to being tested in the field.

Innovation is a crucial part of the development of MSF. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with them to ensure all of their staff have the chance to contribute their ideas and improve care across the world.

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