The Power of Small Grants: Research that Opens Minds

Small grants help strengthen capacity for health research in low-income countries.

By Bridgit Adamou, MPH, Technical Advisor for Family Planning, MEASURE Evaluation

Building the evidence base to support health policies and interventions is a cornerstone to strengthening health systems. Yet, the opportunity to conduct research, from both a technical and financial point of view, remains largely unattainable to those living in the very countries being studied. At the 2010 First Global Symposium on Health Systems Research held in Montreux, Switzerland, the point was made that among the health systems research studies conducted in the previous decade in low-income countries (LICs), fewer than 10 percent of researchers came from those countries.

Small grants are one way to strengthen capacity and provide financial support for health research conducted in LICs. In line with the Global Health Initiative principles, small grants support “an effective, efficient and country-led platform for the sustainable delivery of essential health care and public health programs” by giving country-based research groups the opportunity to research local health issues then disseminate their findings directly to stakeholders so the research can inform and influence policies and programs.[i] Furthermore, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is placing more emphasis on its goal of building incentives to make projects and interventions more sustainable. By working through host-country systems and galvanizing the knowledge, experience, and support of ministries or local institutions, supporting country-led research promotes the vision of sustainability with country teams researching issues, developing strategies, and implementing solutions.

In the past seven years, MEASURE Evaluation, funded by USAID, has issued 40 small grants for groups to study topics related to family planning and HIV and AIDS. The program has three objectives:

  1. Address research gaps in either family planning (FP) or HIV and AIDS
  2. Provide opportunities for data to be disseminated to and used by local stakeholders for informed decision making
  3. Build research capacity among local agencies

In this time, universities, non-governmental organizations, research institutions, government health bureaus, and parastatals in 13 LICs around the globe have conducted 12-month research projects—ranging from investigating the potential of including community-based FP data in Pakistan’s routine health information system (HIS), to analyzing the use of pediatric- and adolescent-friendly clinics to enhance clinical outcomes, adherence, and retention at HIV and AIDS treatment centers in Tanzania.

Research from the MEASURE Evaluation-funded small grants has been published in journals, presented at international conferences, and discussed at regional dissemination workshops with local stakeholders. 

Perhaps most importantly, the funding opportunity, coupled with tailored technical assistance, has built the capacity of the researchers in LICs to conduct rigorous research and manage a research subgrant.

“Personally, this research was an opportunity for me to build up my research skills especially in two areas: the analysis plan and the dissemination plan,” says Dr. Jeff Mathe, a former subgrantee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “If this opportunity wasn’t there, then I wouldn’t have got these new important skills, which are part of good research. Most of the time, we just sit on findings and do nothing about them. This research has opened my mind for the future.”

For more information

These research reports were written by recipients of small grants from MEASURE Evaluation:

Family Planning Services in Kenya during a Transition: Utilization Trends across Counties

Women’s Property and Inheritance Rights and HIV in Farming Communities around Lake Victoria, Northwestern Tanzania – A Quantitative Analysis

Investigating Risky Sexual Behaviours among Youth in the Context of the HIV Epidemic in Mbeya Region, Tanzania

Use of Routine Health Information to Inform Budgetary Allocations for Reproductive Health in Cross River State, Nigeria

The Links between Women’s Property and Inheritance Rights and HIV in Rural Tanzania

4 Covers (Use this one)



[i] USAID. 2010. Implementation of the Global Health Initiative: Consultation Document. Washington, DC: USAID