Innovative Ideas to Improve Data Collection in the Global Dairy Sector for Human Health and Well-Being



Dairy, especially milk, can play an important role in providing essential nutrients to infants and children; however, dairy comprises less than 10% of total energy intake in many developing countries. This challenge sought to identify innovations that could assist milk producers, researchers, and policymakers in identifying strategies to improve milk production and quality, leading to higher economic returns for farmers, and possibly better nutritional outcomes in producers and consumers.

Scientists Without Borders and The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science, both programs of the New York Academy of Sciences, partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to sponsor a student-led $7,500 open innovation challenge seeking ideas to significantly improve the measurement, aggregation, and sharing of data associated with smallholder farmer dairy production in developing countries.

The two winners, who will share in the $7,500 prize are:

  • First place (receiving $5,625): Veena S. Katikineni, a medical student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Alejandra Leyton, a masters of public health student at Tulane University, for their proposal, “Dairy Surveillance for the Future.” Their solution suggests using community-based “reward circles,” in which smallholder farmers form groups to collect and report dairy data via a common questionnaire and shared SMS mobile device. In turn, the data can be analyzed by researchers and policy makers.
  • Second place (receiving $1,875):  Adnan Naim, a PhD student at the Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, for his proposal, “Dairy Calendar.” The “Dairy Calendar” uses an intuitive calendar paired with pictures to report details related to the dairy animal, feed, volume of milk, and destination of the product. Data would be uploaded to a cloud storage system and accessible to researchers and policymakers.

The winners were chosen by an independent expert selection panel convened by Scientists Without Borders. The members of the expert panel were Lindsay H. Allen, PhD, RD, of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and the University of California, Davis; Claudia M. Garcia, DVM, of Elanco Animal Health; Sean Paavo Krepp, country director and program manager for AppLab and Community Knowledge Worker Initiatives for the Grameen Foundation Uganda; Dan LeClerc of the Digital Design for Agriculture team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and Ben Lukuyu, PhD, of the International Livestock Research Institute. The panelists chose the winning solutions from 40 submissions that were generated from 19 countries over 60 days, with over half of the submissions offered by solvers in the developing world.


The judges noted that the winning solutions demonstrated novel incentives for data reporting and sharing across geographies and had the potential to incorporate and piggyback on existing data collection and reporting systems.

Specifically, judges noted that the social support system proposed in the first place solution would not only create positive social pressure to measure and report dairy data, but also build future opportunities for farmers to jointly negotiate with dairy collection points and secondary producers, which could lead to higher incomes for farmers and potentially improved availability of dairy products. Judges felt that the simple pictorial model proposed in the second place solution, could, with technical advice, overcome majorbarriers among smallholder farmers such as illiteracy and limited uptake.

"Using the creative talents of our solver community, and the capabilities of our partners, Scientists Without Borders bridges disciplinary silos to identify and accelerate path-breaking solutions to global challenges," says Meredith Perry, program manager of Scientists Without Borders. "Working together with The Sackler Institute and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and using our open innovation model, we’ve surfaced fresh ideas that have the potential to improve human nutrition and smallholder incomes."

The dairy data challenge is the capstone to a project with the Gates Foundation, Scientists Without Borders, and The Sackler Institute to combine an online crowdsourcing activity, high-level stakeholder collaboration, and a student-led incentive challenge to connect potentially path-breaking research, collaborations, and new models in the fields of human, animal, and veterinary sciences that could yield significant impacts in tackling human malnutrition.

Veena Katikineni and Alejandra Leyton, the first place winners, note, "The key approach for our proposal was blending the different actors, resources, and incentives available in varied settings. With totally different backgrounds (Biology/Public Health and Economics), we looked at the challenge through different lenses, and were able to design a system where milk producers could share information among one another and with the global community. Creating strong networks of knowledge, instead of relying on individual interactions, allows for quality control, rewards the participants, and reduces the economic costs of the system. SMS text technology was the cherry on top, helping us to reduce errors transmitting the information and make every step more efficient."   Katikineni and Leyton will split the $5,625 prize.

In keeping with the partners’ missions, and Scientists Without Borders’ open platform, the winning solutions are publicly available on this website to encourage further uptake and adaptation.

You can read more about the winning ideas, our press release, our partners, our expert panel of judges, the importance of dairy and access to animal-source foods, and our partnership with the Gates Foundation on this page or via the hyperlinked text.