USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Global Development Lab

Why Strengthening Civil Society Matters + Co-Creating Solutions Rocks

A team focused on the Middle East and North Africa collaborates on challenges facing civil society at the Civil Society İnnovation initiative workshop in Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 6, 2014. / Joshua Haynes, USAID

A team focused on the Middle East and North Africa collaborates on challenges facing civil society at the Civil Society İnnovation initiative workshop in Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 6, 2014. / Joshua Haynes, USAID

USAID is facing a development challenge that is not discussed as much as higher profile threats like Ebola, climate change or extreme poverty, but one that threatens to exacerbate all of those crises and impede the world’s ability to ameliorate them. It’s the growing restrictions against freedom of association, assembly and expression.

In the past two years, over 50 laws limiting civil society space have been proposed or enacted by governments around the world trying to tame the power of citizens to meet, organize, write and inspire, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, a USAID partner.

For example, in Kyrgyzstan, the government is considering a law that would echo the draconian stifling of dissent in Russia. In Kenya, the government is again floating a law that would restrict civil society organizations (CSOs) from accessing foreign funding. Again and again, we are seeing these restrictions in an increasing number of countries around the world, even those with democratically elected governments.

As a small aid agency, USAID relies on international and local CSOs that do the work of development. We also support the development of vibrant civil society sectors where we work because we know that civil society is necessary for the growth of democracy, which is in turn necessary to sustain development outcomes.

Workshop participant Josh Machleder of Internews uses a creative prop during the “product in a box” exercise explaining how to nurture civil society activism under restrictive conditions. / Reboot

Workshop participant Josh Machleder of Internews uses a creative prop during the “product in a box” exercise explaining how to nurture civil society activism under restrictive conditions. / Reboot

So this backlash against civil society affects not only USAID’s democracy work, but its work in all sectors, including health, humanitarian assistance, the environment, education and economic growth.

In response to these headwinds, President Obama launched the Stand with Civil Society initiative in 2013, where he called on governments, multilaterals and private philanthropy to explore innovative ways to support civil society. USAID took up that challenge. At the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2014, the president announced the Civil Society İnnovation Initiative (CSİI): USAID, together with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Aga Khan Development Network and other partners, will develop up to six regional civil society innovation hubs that will connect CSOs to each other through peer-to-peer learning and to tools (technological and otherwise) to support their work and amplify the voice of civil society.

But how can USAID launch a new program designed to support civil society and protect its space without input from civil society? More than soliciting input, USAID wanted to create a process that would allow civil society to co-design the CSI with us.

That’s where the Global Development Lab came in. The Lab is not only fostering innovative solutions to development problems, it is also exploring process innovations to make USAID a more nimble, smarter donor. The Development Innovation Accelerator is a new instrument that lets USAID co-create a program with its partners to allow more dialogue and input from many more stakeholders and create a more transparent process for project design.

USAID’s Swedish colleagues were along for every step of the way and, in July, we put out a call for expressions of interest for the CSI. We received over 300 responses from 85 countries around the world. Then we invited 45 of the applicants to a three-day co-creation workshop in Istanbul in early November.

I took a number of lessons away from the workshop.

First, the co-creation process generates a better outcome than the more traditional donor-led method of project design. One CSO called it an actual “consultation” and not an “insultation,” where civil society has two minutes to speak in front of a government/donor entity.

Second, expert facilitation is key. We had an incredibly diverse group of CSOs (international, regional, national, grassroots), representing many sectors (human rights, democracy, health, environment, humanitarian assistance). The more diverse the group, the more time needs to be spent on getting everyone on the same page.

Third, co-creation is complicated, but it’s worth the extra investment of time. It was clear that this global workshop will need to be followed by workshops at the regional level to bring in more regional, national and grassroots voices.

Only the energy, creativity and courage of civil society will stop the trend of governments to restrict citizens’ voices and assembly. The challenges are daunting and dangerous. But CSOs are not alone in fighting against the obstacles. USAID, Sida and the global civil society sector support them.

And that’s why co-creation rocks: It enables USAID to be a more open donor, one that is not only listening to civil society, but is also encouraging it to help solve development challenges. This was USAID’s most ambitious co-creation to date. It took a lot to bring it about, but it was worth the investment if it shifted the USAID-civil society relationship a step closer to true partnership.


Claire Ehmann is Civil Society and Media Division Leader for USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance

A New Leader for the U.S. Global Development Lab

Since launching eight months ago, the U.S. Global Development Lab has rallied a global community of innovators around our shared goal of ending extreme poverty. Less than a year in, it is pursuing a diverse array of projects—like seeding start-ups through the Global Innovation Fund, preserving biodiversity in Brazil by harnessing advanced data analytics, and reducing child mortality in India through our new Urban Sanitation effort.

At the core of these efforts is a focus on working hand-in-hand with both global and local partners—enabling us to make an impact faster, cheaper, and more sustainably.

But in doing so, our Agency is focusing on doing business differently.

We are deepening our engagement with innovators—including co-creating through the new Development Innovation Accelerator, and hiring technical experts through flexible personnel authorities.

We are approaching challenges in new ways—crafting a statement of the problem, and then opening it up to the brightest minds around the world to solve. Using this public-facing approach, our new Ebola Grand Challenge generated more than 1,300 innovative proposals in one month alone.

We are broadening the scope of the partners we work with—like our Frontiers in Development innovation marketplace and the Higher Education Solutions Network TechCon, which brought together universities, corporations, and governments to share their best ideas in development.

We are embracing smart risk, iterating quickly, and learning from failure.And we are working to scale innovations with immense potential—likeelectronic payment systems—to millions of people in the world’s most vulnerable communities.

Today, we are thrilled to announce steps to take these efforts to a new level—as next month, the Lab will welcome Ann Mei Chang as its first Executive Director. With extensive experience in the technology industry, a commitment to public service, and a depth of expertise in development, Ann Mei will accelerate our Agency’s commitment to harnessing science, technology, innovation, and partnerships in every place we work.

Prior to USAID, Ann Mei served as the Chief Innovation Officer at Mercy Corps, where she focused on leveraging mobile technology to improve the lives of the poor. She also served as the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology at the U.S. Department of State—playing a key role in harnessing technology to improve the lives of women and girls in developing countries, and increase the representation of women in the technology sector. Throughout her career, Ann Mei has worked closely with USAID—including through the launch of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, a public-private partnership that aims to expand Internet access to one billion people.

Ann Mei has more than twenty years of engineering and leadership experience in Silicon Valley, including serving for eight years as a Senior Engineering Director at Google. At Google, she also led the product development team for Emerging Markets, with a mission to bring relevant mobile and Internet services to the two-thirds of the world’s population that is not yet online. In addition, Ann Mei has held leadership roles at several leading companies including Apple,Intuit, SGI, and several startups.

Under Ann Mei’s leadership, the Global Development Lab will continue to focus the world’s brightest minds on our biggest shared challenges—lifting millions out of the tragic cycle of extreme poverty.

Please join us in welcoming Ann Mei to our USAID family. 


The authors both served as Acting Executive Directors of the Lab. 

The Digital Development Opportunity

Bangladeshi farmer Jalal Kha talks over a mobile phone as he works in his paddy field. / AFP, Farjana K. Godhuly

Bangladeshi farmer Jalal Kha talks over a mobile phone as he works in his paddy field. / AFP, Farjana K. Godhuly

At last month’s Frontiers in Development Forum, we welcomed some of the world’s brightest minds and boldest leaders to discuss how to best partner to end extreme poverty. We not only heard from leaders like Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Secretary of State John Kerry, but also from innovators who are creating mobile apps to fight human trafficking and using 3-D printers to build prosthetic hands in the field. It was a recognition that we live in a unique moment, one where new technologies and partnerships are redefining what is possible.

Above all, the Forum was a reminder that—as we near the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals—we must accelerate progress. For our Agency, new technologies and partnerships have created unprecedented opportunities to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies.

From GPS to Skype to e-tablets, new innovations are fundamentally changing the way we communicate, work, learn, share and interact. Almost two decades ago, we launched the Leland Initiative, an effort to expand access to information and communication technology in more than 20 African countries. To build on this legacy, we teamed up with the U.K.,, and the Omidyar Network to establish the Alliance for Affordable Internet. Since then, the Alliance has grown to more than 65 members, from Facebook to the Government of Mozambique. Together, they are building global consensus around a set of policy and regulatory recommendations that will lower the cost of internet access—unlocking new opportunities for doctors, entrepreneurs, and local leaders across the developing world.

Much of this progress won’t happen at a desktop; it’ll happen in the palms of billions of hands. Today, farmers are using mobile payments apps to send payments and receive loans; entrepreneurs are selling their goods on the global marketplace; and health workers are treating more patients, at less cost, and without expensive equipment.


A mobile money user in the Philippines checks her balance on her phone. / USAID, Brooke Patterson

We’re also tapping into affordable, game-changing technologies with the potential to transform the way we work. In Uganda, we’re using mTrac, a tool that enables local health workers to send the government reports via SMS. Recently, the Ministry of Health used mTrac to survey 10,000 health workers on whether their health unit had a fridge that kept perishable drugs and vaccines cold.

The survey cost just $150 and took less than three days—providing the Ministry of Health with information from 1,862 health facilities. As a result, we learned that only about 70 percent of them have working fridges to store life-saving treatments. As Uganda ramped up its national campaign to eradicate polio, it used this information to target the most vulnerable populations and protect more children.

Technology we often take for granted is creating monumental changes in developing economies. In Senegal, rice millers buy expensive Asian imports, while local rice farmers are unable to sell their crops. To build up local supply chains and improve the quality of harvests, we are helping farmers share information through Excel and Dropbox. With this information in hand, rice millers can monitor local crops, schedule shipments in advance, and collect payments online. With 30 farming networks involved to date, this project is helping tens of thousands of smallholder farmers boost their sales and reach new customers.

We’re not creating technology for technology’s sake. There are too many apps that might look sleek, but are not transformative for the people who use them. That’s why we have helped publish a set of guidelines on best practices for development programs that utilize technology.

We call these principles the Greentree Consensus, and they are built on earlier sets of principles that draw on the insight of more than 300 NGOs with expertise in the field. Representing our commitment not only to innovation, but sustainable results, we’re thrilled to be launching these principles in partnership with over a dozen donors and multilaterals, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the United Nations Development Program and the World Food Program.

This is just the beginning of a conversation. We must do more to take these insights into action.  Over the next year, we want to hear from the development community about your experiences in bringing technology to tackle development challenges—from promoting media freedom to solving water shortages. With our Agency’s new U.S. Global Development Lab at the center of this effort, we’ll be able to create, test, and scale breakthrough solutions like never before. In doing so, we can make strides towards a day when extreme poverty—like cassette tapes and dial-up internet—is a thing of the past.


Dr. Rajiv Shah is USAID Administrator. He tweets from @rajshah

Diaspora Businesses Find Success in Africa and Beyond

Want to build a global business? Start it in Africa.

The African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM) encourages promising diaspora entrepreneurs to do just that.

The partnership between USAID’s Global Development LabWestern Union, and Western Union Foundation provides seed funding, expertise, and networking opportunities for a talented group of entrepreneurs to create new opportunities in and outside the continent.

We  recently caught up with a few of ADM’s entrepreneurs to discuss their progress, and what they like most about doing business in Africa.

U.S. based tech company, Sproxil created an efficient way to verify the authenticity of medicine and other  products for consumers in Africa and Asia.

U.S. based tech company, Sproxil created an efficient way to verify the authenticity of medicine and other products for consumers in Africa and Asia. / Sproxil

Protecting Consumers from Fake Drugs
Tech start-up and ADM grantee, Sproxil developed an anti-counterfeiting service for a range of products, including pharmaceuticals drugs. The firm’s Ghanaian founder first pioneered the SMS-based verification service in Nigeria and quickly scaled it to additional markets. In 2013, Fast Company magazine ranked Sproxil as seventh amongst the year’s 50 most innovative businesses along with Google and Nike.

“[ADM] was fundamental in accelerating our growth, enabling Sproxil to scale-up faster than we would have otherwise,” says Alden Zecha, Sproxil Chief Financial Officer and Strategist.

“Consumers, governments, and businesses are very receptive to technological innovations that enhance quality of life. Consequently, more startups and investments are focusing on countries across Africa,” said Zecha about the region’s tech sectors.

Today, Sproxil’s mobile phone based service has helped American, African, and Asian consumers verify the authenticity of more than 11 million medicines and other products.

Grown in Ghana, Ashanti Pineapples were able to sell their certified organic produce in Whole Foods Market grocery stores thanks in part to the ADM partnership.

Grown in Ghana, Ashanti Pineapples were able to sell their certified organic produce in Whole Foods Market grocery stores thanks in part to the ADM partnership. / Sardis Enterprises International

Going Organic Reaps Sweet Success
Sardis Enterprises International and its Ghanaian partners, grow organic fruits for export. By producing and selling organic fruits, Sardis is reaching higher-value markets. In January, its Ashanti brand pineapples began selling in Whole Foods grocery stores in the southeast United States.

With support from the ADM, farming cooperatives in Ghana that supply Sardis were able to become certified to sell organic produce in the U.S. and E.U. “That venue [ADM] was very good for a young entrepreneur that needs a platform to get exposure and assistance to expand,” says Michael Griffin, CEO of Sardis.

Griffin sees expanding opportunities for growing small businesses on the continent. “[Africa] gives the small guy a shot…the atmosphere is conducive for a smart entrepreneur to succeed.”

The company is now working on expanding its partnership with Whole Foods across America’s east coast.

Chinwe Ohajuruka, an American educated architect and business women is creating a model for green and affordable housing units in Nigeria.

Chinwe Ohajuruka, an American educated architect and business women is creating a model for green and affordable housing units in Nigeria. / CDS

Making Affordable Green Housing a Reality
In Nigeria, there is a need for more than 17 million houses. The nation also faces major challenges with reliable power, and access to clean water. Enter Comprehensive Design Services (CDS), a Diaspora founded and woman-owned business. CDS has designed and built a set of prototype housing units that provides dependable renewable energy and clean water for Nigerians of average incomes.

“The ADM grant provided much needed start-up financing,” said Chinwe Ohajuruka, head of CDC and a Nigerian-American Architect. ‘The partnership has increased [our] visibility, as we have been invited to South Africa, Japan, and even the White House to speak about our innovative and sustainable design solutions to the housing, renewable energy, clean water, and sanitation crisis.”

A resident of Columbus, Ohio, Ohajuruka says the ADM allows her to stay connected with the continent in a meaningful way.

Her ambitious goal is to eventually build 100 green and affordable residential buildings in each of the 774 local municipalities across Nigeria.

Thanks to the success of CDS, Sproxil, Sardis and other diaspora businesses supported by the ADM, it has been nominated as a finalist for the P3 Impact Awards.  The award showcases outstanding public-private partnership for their innovations and results.


Romi Bhatia is a Senior Advisor in the U.S. Global Development Lab (@romib15)
Jeffrey Jackson is a Senior Advisor in USAID’s Bureau for Africa (@USAIDAfrica)

Ending Extreme Poverty with a New Model of Development

Tonight, 860 million people will go to sleep hungry. This year, 6.6 million children will die before their 5th birthday. And every day, 1.1 billion people around the world—more than the population of North and South America combined—live in extreme poverty on just a dollar-and-a-quarter a day.

Paschali Axweso Amnaay, chairman of the Mahande Rice Irrigation Scheme

Paschali Axweso Amnaay, chairman of the Mahande Rice Irrigation Scheme in Tanzania, along with many agri-businesses in the country, benefit from initiatives like Power Africa. Photo by: CNFA

Even after adjusting for the relative price of local commodities, this is a desperately meager sum. With it, families must make daily choices among food, medicine, housing, and education.

We know it doesn’t have to be this way. For the first time in history, we stand within reach of a world that was simply once unimaginable: a world without extreme poverty.

From 1990 to 2010, the number of children in school rose to nearly 90 percent, and around two billion people gained access to clean water. Child mortality rates have fallen by 47 percent and poverty rates by 52 percent. In 2005, for the first time on record, poverty rates began falling in every region of the world, including Africa.

We now have a clear roadmap out of extreme poverty that is driven by broad-based economic growth and transparent democratic governance. With the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals drawing near—and conversations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda well underway—the global community has an opportunity to pioneer a new model of development and shape an inclusive, results-driven agenda that will end extreme poverty.

The Busan High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness has built a strong foundation for this effort—tapping into the capabilities of governments, foundations, companies, and civil society organisations to solve the world’s greatest development challenges.

Through this new model of development, USAID is forging high-impact partnerships to harness innovation and scale meaningful results to end extreme poverty. This month, we launched the U.S. Global Development Lab, a hub of creative design and high-impact collaboration that is setting a new standard for development. Together with 32 cornerstone partners, the Lab will bring innovators and entrepreneurs from across the public and private sectors to answer the world’s most pressing development challenges through science and technology.

On April 3, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah unveiled the U.S. Global Development Lab.

On April 3, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah unveiled the U.S. Global Development Lab. Photo credit: USAID

Earlier this year, through our Development Credit Authority, USAID partnered with GE and Kenya Commercial Bank to help health care providers buy life-saving healthcare equipment, including portable ultrasound devices and Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines. For the first time ever, our private sector partner is covering the cost of the loan guarantee—making this program virtually costless for the taxpayer.

President Obama’s Power Africa initiative is another great example.

For most of the world, electricity allows businesses to flourish, clinics to store vaccines, and students to study long after dark. But for more than 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, these opportunities simply do not exist. Power Africa encourages countries to make energy sector reforms—while connecting entrepreneurs to investment opportunities that are created by those reforms themselves.

Less than a year since launching, more than 5,500 mega-watts of power projects have been planned—putting us more than halfway towards the initiative’s goal of expanding electricity to 20 million homes and businesses. Just recently, we celebrated three local engineers who are lighting up Africa with solar-powered generators and pay-as-you-go power home meters.

Increasingly, the best ideas aren’t just coming from development professionals who have been in the field for three decades. They are also coming from scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs around the world. That is why we launched the Grand Challenges for Development and created the Development Innovation Ventures fund—to enable problem-solvers to test their game-changing idea, whether it’s a mobile technology that boosts hospital efficiency or a $10 device that prevents the leading cause of maternal mortality.

A few years ago, we were lucky if we got half-a-dozen proposals in response to our solicitations. So far, these new kinds of open competitions have received more than 6,000 applicants—each with the potential to transform development. Even better, 70 percent of proposals are from inventors who we’ve never worked with before.

We look forward to strengthening this new model of development at the first High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. Whether we work for a government agency or small local organisation, each of us can expand our emphasis on partnership and innovation. Each of us can deepen our focus on rigorous evaluation and scalable results. Working together, we can throw open the doors of development and engage millions of people in our mission to unlock a brighter future for all.

This post originally appeared on on April 11, 2014

U.S. Global Development Lab Launches to Develop and Scale Solutions to Global Challenges

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton & Dr. Rajiv Shah on April 3, 2014 at the New York launch of the Global Development Lab

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton & Dr. Rajiv Shah on April 3, 2014 at the New York launch of the Global Development Lab

Imagine a world in which diagnostics for diseases that are prevalent in developing countries are available at pennies per use, renewable off-grid energy services are affordable for households earning less than $2/day, and every family has enough healthy food to eat.  USAID is helping to turn these ideas into realities by launching the U.S. Global Development Lab. The Lab is a critical part of delivering on the President’s commitment to game-changing innovation in the first-ever Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development.

The Lab’s creation is part of a strategic decision to emphasize innovation as one of the critical tools needed to end extreme poverty and achieve broad-based economic growth in light of a number of converging trends:

  • Recognition that quality of life and economic improvements in developing countries over the last few decades can be traced in large part to the use of scientific advances such as improved agricultural seeds and practices, oral rehydration therapy, vaccines, and the cell phone.
  • Emphasis on leveraging U.S. core competencies.  America is a global leader in innovation and invests $453 billion in public and private research and development annually.  It also has 17 of the top 20 research universities, and world-class innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley and Cambridge, MA.
  • The information economy is changing the way innovation occurs and is increasingly enabling people in even the most remote parts of the world to use mobile communications and data to learn, co-create, and deploy solutions locally and globally.
  • The emergence of new pathways to scale innovations via for-profit or social business models that are made possible by a surge in private sector investment in developing countries.  These pathways are critical since they exceed the level and reach of official assistance by the U.S. Government.
Farmers using a SuperMoneyMaker pump.

The U.S. Global Development Lab puts tools in place to create and scale solutions to global challenges in partnership with public and private innovators around the world, USAID Missions, and interagency colleagues.  The Lab has Centers that will focus on Data Analysis and Research (problem definition), Development Innovation (ideas), and Global Solutions (scale).  It will also have teams dedicated to private sector and Mission partnerships, and evaluation and impact.

The Lab brings together a number of existing programs from across the innovation pipeline: Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), the Higher Education Solutions NetworkGrand Challenges for DevelopmentDevelopment Innovation VenturesMobile Solutions, and Global Development Alliances.

Students using mobile devices

We believe that the U.S. Global Development Lab can help lead the transformation of the U.S. development enterprise and strengthen critical initiatives including Power AfricaFeed the Future and Global Health by increasing USAID’s ability to:

  • Invest in breakthrough technologies;
  • Scale what works;
  • Attract scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to work at USAID, and harness the growing interest of young people in development;
  • Leverage America’s $453 billion investment in public and private R&D – which can often have significant benefits for the developing world;
  • Effectively partner with governments, the private sector, researchers, investors, and civil society – at home and abroad; and
  • Excel at using new approaches to solve hard development problems, including Grand Challenges, incentive prizes, and other “pull” mechanisms, crowdsourcing, impact investing in inclusive businesses, managing a “pipeline” of innovations, user-centered design, and the formation of global “communities of practice.”

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

USAID launches Global Development Lab

Today in New York, we launched our Global Development Lab, the new arm of our Agency that will foster science and technology-based solutions to help end extreme poverty by 2030.

Modeled on some of the most innovative and technologically advanced centers for discovery across the country, The ‘Lab’ as we are calling it, brings together a diverse set of partners to help us develop, test, and scale groundbreaking solutions to the greatest challenges known to man. Our goal is to reach over 200 million people through a new Lab-supported global marketplace of innovations in the next five years alone.

To focus the efforts of this talented community, we have outlined nine core areas where science, technology, and innovation can dramatically accelerate progress—from improving child literacy to advancing human rights to expanding financial inclusion through digital services.

And to help build the ranks of a next generation of talented development leaders, we also announced the first-ever class of 62 USAID Research and Innovation Fellows, who will deploy to more than 50 institutions across the world and examine everything from climate data in the Sahel to the impact of pathogens on child nutrition in South Africa.

But we can’t do it alone. If you are excited about the Lab’s vision and want to be part of this bold new approach to development, we want to hear from you!

Cooking With Green Charcoal Helps to Reduce Deforestation in Haiti

An organization in northern Haiti is promoting a cooking fuel made from agricultural waste that can save trees, help farmers increase their yields and generate additional income.

“Our aim is to try to stop deforestation in Haiti by teaching people to switch from cooking with charcoal to using cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste,” said Anderson Pierre, the Supply Chain Manager for Carbon Roots International (CRI), a USAID-supported non-profit organization operating in Quartier Morin.

Carbon Roots International on Dec 12, 2013. Copyright Kendra Helmer/USAID

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti. Copyright Kendra Helmer/USAID

Despite the fact that only about 2 percent of Haiti’s forests remain, it is difficult to shift habits of cooking with wood charcoal to methods that are environmentally friendly.  According to Pierre, other alternative fuels are still not well-known – or accepted.

“We work little by little, changing perceptions and providing information on the benefits of using briquettes,” Pierre said.

CRI employs smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs to produce carbon-rich char from agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. CRI uses this waste to create two innovative products: renewable charcoal cooking briquettes called “green charcoal,” and “biochar,” a potent natural soil additive that increases soil fertility and removes carbon from the atmosphere. CRI sells the briquettes as an alternative to traditional wood charcoal through a network of women retailers, and disburses biochar back to farmers to increase crop yields and further raise incomes.

As a result, the project contributes to the sustainability of Haitian agriculture and provides income opportunities for women entrepreneurs. It offers a comparably priced, locally appropriate green cooking fuel to the Haitian marketplace, as well as encourages the adoption of biochar as a viable tool for increasing agricultural productivity and soil resiliency.

CRI’s efforts to promote green charcoal are gradually gaining ground in northern Haiti. While they’ve been focusing on market research and production, they plan to expand to bulk sales and more roadside kiosks this spring. In December, CRI ran a public awareness campaign in Quartier Morin under the slogan “Green Charcoal is Your Charcoal”, using demonstration stands and offering free samples of briquettes.

“The Haitian consumer likes the fact that this comes from a source other than wood. People have heard about a Haiti that used to be green. They understand that deforestation is not good. If they have an alternative, they will go for it,” said Ryan Delaney, co-founder of CRI. The briquettes are 5 to 10 percent cheaper to buy than wood-based charcoal and they can be burned in a traditional cook stove, making it an attractive fuel alternative.

USAID is supporting CRI through a $100,000 Development Innovation Ventures award. The USAID award has helped CRI prove itself — it developed a network of producers, started production and created viable markets for biomass products.

“We want this to be a self-sufficient project,” Delaney said. “We have just purchased a machine that can increase the briquette production from 3,000 briquettes a day to 3 tons an hour. There is a lot of sugarcane production in Haiti providing the needed sugarcane waste…. Right now we sell small-scale, but we have ambitious expansion goals.”

Delaney estimates the charcoal market in Haiti to be valued at about $700 million a year (approximately $90 million in northern Haiti).  “The potential to scale in Haiti and beyond is enormous, as there is little centralized production of charcoal,” he said.

This month, the U.S.-based CRI expects formal operations to begin for their for-profit entity in Haiti, called Carbon Roots Haiti, S.A.  Eventually CRI wants to hand over green charcoal production to Haitians, Delaney said. “Ultimately, we envision this as a Haitian company run by Haitians.”

Launched in October 2010, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) holds a quarterly grant competition for innovative ideas, pilots and tests them using cutting-edge analytical methods, and scales those that demonstrate cost-effectiveness and widespread development impact. DIV uses a staged-funding model inspired by venture capital to invest comparatively small amounts in relatively unproven ideas, and continues to support only those that prove effective.

For more information on DIV and how to apply, go to For more information on CRI visit and see photos of CRI in Haiti on Flickr.

Read another story about how USAID is fighting deforestation through an improved cooking technology program.

Anna-Maija Mattila Litvak is the Senior Development Outreach and Communications Officer for USAID/Haiti.