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Live at UNGA – Day Three

To see the online conversation at UNGA, visit USAID’s Storify Feed

Day three at UNGA included two marquee events spotlighting progress to date on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.  We also announced a new partnership to expand access to contraception for 27 million women and girls in low-income countries.

With only 15 months until the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deadline, USAID partnered on an event with the UK Department for International Development for a second year to draw attention to the importance of the global community working together to reach the MDG targets by 2015.  The event brought to life the enormous development advancements made on the way to achieving the MDGs and featured innovators from across the development community sharing transformative programs and policies.  The world has met two MDG targets ahead of the 2015 deadline – poverty has been cut by 50 percent globally and the proportion of people with no safe drinking water has been cut in half.

That afternoon, Administrator Shah co-hosted with other G8 members the New Alliance: Progress and the Way Forward event.  President Obama announced the New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition earlier this year, in which G8 nations, African partner countries and private sector partners aim to help lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty in the next 10 years by supporting agricultural development. Initially launched in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania, at the event, representatives from the New Alliance, G8 countries and the private sector announced the expansion to other African countries, including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Mozambique.

Finally, Administrator Shah took part in the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children. Prior to the meeting, Dr. Shah joined the Commission Co-Chairs, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, alongside former President Bill Clinton, to launch a new partnership to make a safe, effective, long-acting, reversible method of contraception available to more than 27 million women in the world’s poorest nations. Under the agreement, Bayer is reducing by more than half the current 18 USD price of its long-acting, reversible method of contraception, Jadelle, in return for a commitment to assure funding for at least 27 million contraceptive devices over the next six years.  Dr. Shah stated, ”The US Agency for International Development is proud to have funded the development of this life-saving product. Today is a major step forward to making this product more accessible to millions of women, empowering them with the ability to make decisions about their health and family.”

As always, follow us live on Twitter to keep up with the latest developments!

Live from UNGA: Day One

Follow the online conversation on our Storify Feed

This week, Administrator Shah and other Agency leaders are participating in several events taking place during and around the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Sunday evening we kicked off our week here in New York at the Social Good Summit, a three-day conference where big ideas meet new media to create innovative solutions. This Summit unites a dynamic community of global leaders to discuss a big idea: the power of innovative thinking and technology to solve our greatest challenges. The most innovative technologists, influential minds and passionate activists will come together with one shared goal: to unlock the potential of new media and technology to make the world a better place, and then to translate that potential into action.

USAID’s chief innovation officer, Maura O’Neil launched the mWomen Design Challenge with partners GSMA, Qtel Group, AusAID, to help improve mobile access for women in developing nations by improving the user experience. She addressed the technical literacy barrier of women’s mobile phone access and ownership. The event included a live design demo and discussions on improving mobile design to make it more intuitive for illiterate populations and the importance of collaborating with the private sector to drive change at scale.

Administrator Shah also appeared at the Social Good Summit yesterday where he spoke on a panel organized by UNICEF called  A Promise Renewed. The event highlighted child survival, technology and innovation for change. Dr. Shah spoke on a panel moderated by CNN anchor Zain Verjee, along with Tony Lake, UNICEF, Clay Shirky and Ethiopian Health Minister Tedros.

Yesterday we also launched two incredible partnerships.

Administrator Shah co-hosted the launch event for the Better than Cash Alliance, a global public-private partnership dedicated to supporting organizations’ transition away from cash to electronic payments. USAID convened the founders of the Alliance, which include The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, U.N. Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and Visa Inc. The Alliance will call on governments, the development community and the private sector to adopt the use of electronic payments for programs that support people living in poverty and provide resources to those who commit to make the transition. Watch the  video.

And finally, Administrator Shah concluded the evening by joining New York Times Journalist Nicholas Kristof and others in commemorating Half the Sky, the best-selling book and multimedia initiative which tell the stories of women in the developing world on issues of family planning, health, girl’s education, sex trafficking, women’s economic empowerment, and domestic violence. USAID  supported the development of eighteen educational and advocacy videos, and three mobile phone games on health and gender equity, developed by Show of Force partner, Games for Change, which will be launched in the early fall for use in East Africa and India.  At the event, Dr. Shah launched Women and Girls Lead Global, a public-private alliance with Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Ford Foundation, in cooperation with CARE, focused on using the power of documentary film and new media to empower women and girls around the world.

To keep up with our team live at #UNGA, Follow @USAID, the Administrator @rajshah, Assistant Administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan @Thieristan or Chief Innovator @MauraATUSAID.

The Power of Storytelling

“I have been able to build a cement house with my income and provide for my children and extended family with food, clothes, and school.” Photo Credit: Bita Rodrigues, USAID/Mozambique

Working in international development and public health for more than three decades, I have visited numerous poverty fighting programs in some of the poorest communities in the world. I have listened to the experts. I have heard the daunting statistics, and I have read the reports. Yet time and time again, I have been impressed by the stories of the resilient women and girls I’ve met along the way.

That is why I’m excited that CARE, USAID, the Independent Television Service (ITVS), and the Ford Foundation are launching Women and Girls Lead Global, a unique multi-partner initiative that will bring these deeply compelling stories to tens of millions of people worldwide. From Peru to Egypt to Bangladesh, these documentary films will air in nine countries over three years.  Our goal is to educate and inspire the public to take action on the development challenges and gender inequities that girls and women face.

The idea is simple: A growing number of girls and women are stepping into leadership roles. They are working tirelessly to improve their communities through the arts, sciences, business and government, but their stories are often unheard. This partnership will work with independent filmmakers to amplify the voices of these courageous leaders, whose trailblazing efforts are changing attitudes about what empowered girls and women can accomplish.

We also know that the media can be a powerful tool for stirring public dialogue and helping ordinary people initiate change in their communities. Research has shown that when women are equipped with the right resources, they have the power to lift their families and entire communities out of poverty. Our hope is that both men and women in all nine countries will advocate for more social, economic and political opportunities for girls and women and in the process build more equal, inclusive societies.

I know first-hand that partnerships on the ground can produce impactful and lasting results. That’s why I’m thrilled that CARE has joined such a dynamic and innovative partnership that involves experts from the media, government and civil society.

I encourage you to explore the Women and Girls Lead Global website, where you will find film clips and interactive activities. These girls and women have a story to tell, and with your support, their achievements will start a ripple of change in communities around the world.

Visa Joins Global Partnership

This post originally appeared on the Better Than Cash Blog

Today, Visa joins with six partners from government, the private sector and the international development community to launch the Better Than Cash Alliance. Working together with our other founding members – the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Citi, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Omidyar Network – the Alliance will help bring many of the world’s 2.5 billion unbanked people into the financial mainstream by providing them with resources that are safer and more useful than physical cash.

Around the world, governments, the development community and the private sector are making billions of dollars in cash payments to the poor – in salaries, pensions, emergency relief, social aid and more. Making these payments in physical cash or in-kind goods costs poor people time and money and can be unsafe.

To begin with, people in developing countries often have to travel great distances just to collect cash payments. That can mean days away from work and their families and, worse, the risk of being robbed on the journey back. Delivering cash to poor recipients often involves several couriers – and if any of these intermediaries pocket part of the amount, cash is impossible to track.

For anyone without a bank account, cash also is hard to save. Shifting payments to electronic or mobile payments offers more security and convenience – and, more importantly, an onramp to financial inclusion by providing easier access to accounts they could use to save, get a loan or make payments of their own.

At Visa, we are proud of the work we are doing already around the world to help governments enable the electronic delivery of social benefits and other disbursements. For example, in Mexico, Visa works with the government-owned Bank of National Savings and Financial Savings (Bansefi) to distribute social program benefits via Visa debit and prepaid cards to 6.5 million people, giving recipients opportunities to use financial services to save, budget and improve their lives.

In the Dominican Republic, Visa and the government teamed up to boost the national financial inclusion rate and address theft and delay issues of government benefits by distributing reloadable Visa Solidaridad cards. Today, more than 800,000 people in the Dominican Republic receive their aid via Visa card—which also helps provide customers for local merchants as those citizens use their cards to pay for food, fuel and medicines.

Through this innovative partnership, Visa and our partners in the Alliance aim to provide governments, the development community and the private sector with the inspiration, technical expertise and financial support to commit to making the transition to electronic payments and unleash new potential to reduce poverty and promote economic development.

Learn more by visiting the Better Than Cash Alliance website.

Designing for Women: The Mobile Challenge

Imagine if you picked up a smartphone and didn’t know how to use it. What must it be like to have such a powerful device in the palm of your hand and not be able to utilize it? For many technically illiterate women in the developing world, navigating a smartphone or even a more basic feature phone is a real challenge.

Based on research performed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, as part of the GSMA mWomen Program, we know that on average, resource-poor women are 22% less likely to want a mobile phone because they would not know how to use it.  Yet we also know from other GSMA research that mobile phones afford women critical entrepreneurial opportunities, security, and a greater sense of family connection.

Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women are at risk of being left behind, missing out on opportunities and services from education to healthcare.  Making the user experience easier would open up a multitude of possibilities. So what if there was a more intuitive way of navigating your phone?

The GSMA mWomen Program, as part of USAID’s mWomen Global Development Alliance, has set out to do just that by launching the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge: Redefining the User Experience at the third annual Social Good Summit in New York. Through submissions from the global design and developer community, the Design Challenge seeks to increase access to life enhancing mobile services so that regardless of someone’s skill level, they can pick up a phone and maximize its potential.

At the Social Good Summit, USAID, GSMA, AusAID, Qtel Group and the design firm Huge, shared possible approaches to solving this issue, by making the mobile user interface and experience more intuitive.  Mobile phones are a real game changer when it comes to tackling global challenges around the world but if the design does not change, hundreds of millions of women risk being left out in this next mobile revolution.  That is a risk we cannot afford to take.

What’s Better than Cash?

“We are excited to be joining our partners in announcing the Better than Cash Alliance today. Committed to moving the global community onto electronic payments in place of physical cash, the Alliance will help the world’s poorest families join the modern economy and realize the benefits of a more transparent, inclusive, cash-light world. I’m optimistic that this Alliance will help usher in a new era of opportunity for some of the most vulnerable people on earth.”

– USAID Administrator Raj Shah, September 19, 2012

As surprising as it may sound, physical cash can undercut many development objectives. From improving aid effectiveness to promoting transparency, cash gets in the way. That is why I am excited about the launch of the Better than Cash Alliance, a global public-private partnership dedicated to accelerating the use of electronic payments in place of physical cash. I am proud to have USAID stand alongside forward-thinking partners like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, Visa Inc., and the U.N Capital Development Fund to move the world toward a more transparent, efficient, inclusive, cash-light society.

This Alliance wouldn’t have been possible five or ten years ago.  But with the rapid rise of new technologies in the developing world, we can now leverage growing payment systems powered by electronic cards and mobile phones to reduce the presence of cash.

With electronic payments, people can store money safely and securely, a game-changer for the 2.5 billion people around the world without access to basic financial services.  With electronic payments, companies and governments alike can improve transparency in their operations.  You cannot track cash or see the hands it moves through, but it is possible to track how money flows when it is transferred electronically.

With electronic payments, organizations making payments or collecting fees can save money. Paying teachers their salaries or issuing social transfers is expensive. In some of the most distant areas of the world it requires couriers to lug big bags of cash around, and leakages are inevitable.  For example, a World Economic Forum says that developing country governments can realize more than a US$ 100 billion in economic benefits by 2015 by making major payment streams digital.

The benefits of electronic payments are widespread and underpin so many of our development objectives.  I’m not suggesting that it will be easy to realize a cash-light world. It won’t. Over the last year, USAID has worked tirelessly to use our payments and presence as a force for good by promoting the use of safe, accessible, affordable electronic payments systems in place of physical cash.

But we know that we cannot do it by ourselves.  This is a movement that should matter to all of us.  It should matter to any company or NGO trying to save money or protect their employees.  It should matter to any donor organization or government trying to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of development programs.  It should matter to anyone who cares about the plight of the poor.

This vision will take time.  But I’m excited about the steps we’ve taken and I wholeheartedly believe that we must do better than cash. We coined the term “Better Than Cash” because that’s actually what we believe – electronic payments, when introduced in a secure, equitable way, can offer enormous benefits for hundreds of millions of poor families trapped in a cash world.

To learn more about Better Than Cash Alliance, visit www.betterthancash.org, and follow @betterthan_cash. #epayments #progress.

For more about USAID Mobile Solutions efforts, visit www.usaid.gov and follow us @msolutionsUSAID.

Mexican Diaspora Leader Gives Back Green

The Impact Blog interviewed Luis Aguirre-Torres, CEO of GreenMomentum and recipient of the White House’s Champion of Change award. He partners with USAID in his homeland of Mexico to help foster green companies. 

You have been extremely successful in helping companies become green, why is it important for you to give back to your native country of Mexico?

After several years of living abroad, I found myself in a position to give back to the country that gave me an education and inspired me to continue moving forward. I have a personal believe that the future is something we work towards and not something that simply one day magically appears. Before I always imagined a better future than what the present turned out to be; today, I understand that the future will only be different if we take an active role in making it happen. What better place to reinvent the future than my country of origin.

What is the Cleantech Challenge and how did it come about?

The Cleantech Challenge was originally conceived as a green business plan competition. However, today it has become an open forum for investors, entrepreneurs, government and development agencies to share ideas on how to develop clean technology, how to finance it and how to accelerate its implementation. It was first conceptualized after a conversation with the Director of the UNEP a few years ago, when he challenged me and my team to do something different that could impact the Mexican economy. A few weeks later, the Cleantech Challenge was born.

What would a surge in green companies in Latin America mean for the region?

We are currently seeing a surge in green companies in Mexico. This has been echoed by other countries like Colombia, Chile and Argentina, among others. For all these countries, it represents an opportunity to become part of the world’s new green economy. As it has happened in other countries, it could also lead to a surge in investment opportunities and the development of new government policies. This could accelerate economic growth through the creation of new business and job opportunities, having therefore a direct impact on the competitiveness of the region as a whole.

Do you think Latin America faces unique challenges regarding greenhouse gas emissions compared to the rest of the world?

Latin America faces a series of challenges regarding climate change. It has to develop new and more reliable mechanisms for financing the implementation of adaptation and mitigation programs. Specifically, it has to find a way of fighting climate change without negatively impacting economic growth and increasing the region’s competitiveness.

The White House just honored you with a Champion of Change award, what does this mean for you?

This has been a great experience. I feel humbled and forever grateful to those who from the beginning believed in this project. The recognition from the White House means the world to us, not only because it validates our efforts during the past four years, but also because it has allowed us to share it with the American people and the rest of the world. It has inspired me to continue working and to work towards newer and bigger things.

To read more, visit the White House’s Champions of Change webpage.

An “IdEA” That Runs Deep: Engaging America’s Diaspora Communities

Growing up, John Henry Thompson was fascinated by technology. His family’s farm in Jamaica had no running water or electricity. But when he immigrated to New York with his parents at the age of 12, he quickly proved his technological aptitude. He devoured books on electricity and the latest editions of “Popular Mechanic.” For his seventh grade science fair, he built a rudimentary computing device. This science fair marked the beginning of what would become a lifelong passion for computer programming.

There are many “John Henry”‘s from India to Colombia to the Philippines who have come to the United States to learn and create new futures. Currently, more than 60 million Americans are first- or second-generation Diasporas, and many of them have close ties to countries with critical needs. Instead of just sending money back home, imagine what they could do to help improve the lives and change futures.

Like John Henry, his homeland of Jamaica has come a long way in the past few decades. Yet he knows that Jamaicans haven’t leveraged that mobile lead into greater economic prosperity and better health. He knows that Jamaica can do better. And he wants to ensure that future generations of Jamaicans have the tools they need to compete in the global knowledge economy.

This is why he became a volunteer mentor and trainer for the Digital Jam 2.0 Mobile Applications Competition. Sponsored by the Government of Jamaica and the World Bank, the Mobile App Competition combined both a competition and educational workshops for app developers. As trainer, John Henry helped young developers gain the tools they needed to build effective native mobile applications.

This passion to give back to their homelands is what makes the potential for diaspora communities’ engagement in development so powerful. From their language skills and cultural familiarity to professional networks and personal ties, the diaspora community has the potential to be a significant people-to-people asset for positive development impact. If we can deepen and expand diaspora outreach, we can develop stronger bonds with other nations — through their civil societies, business leaders, inventors, and scientists. We can do things that USAID working alone never could.

That’s why USAID joined with the U.S. Department of State in 2011 to launch the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA). Recognizing the powerful yet untapped potential of diasporas in development, IdEA seeks to deepen America’s engagement and partnership with diaspora communities.

To further advance our work with diaspora communities, USAID, the U.S. Department of State, and IdEA are hosting the second Global Diaspora Forum, an annual celebration of America’s diaspora communities, July 25-26. The Forum is focused on how new technology can empower and increase diaspora philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and social innovation. I encourage you to visit IdEA’s website to watch live streaming videos from the Forum and read more about diaspora communities’ contributions to their countries of origin and America’s diplomatic relationships and development commitments worldwide.

Developers for Development: The Evolution of the Food Security Open Data Challenge

Geeks, Coders, Hackers, Developers, Computer Scientists, Technologists- whichever term you choose, people with technical acumen have proven to be some of the most prolific volunteers for social good.  It is not hyperbole to state that on any given weekend, in nearly every major city around the world, volunteers can be found gathering together to create products that benefit education, security, economic, and other social interests. Participants cobble together the vision, team, the code, and the experts over 48 hours, and present themselves for judging by Sunday evening.  These gatherings are dubbed “hackathons,” “codeathons” or “codesprints” and they have found success: out of the Disrupt Hackathon, which is hosted by TechCrunch and connects developers and entrepreneurs, the Docracy team formed to make legal and business documents more free and accessible, and went on to raise $650,000 over the next year to expand its operations.  StartupWeekend, a hackathon targeting entrepreneurs, claims hundreds of new startups including Reddit, a widely popular user-generated news aggregator.  In 2010, the State Department and iHub launched the Apps4Africa challenge  to connect local developers and global mentors to local NGOs to learn and solve local problems.  The winner, iCow,  is a successful mobile-phone application that tracks cows’ hormone cycles to inform better breeding, milk production, and nutrition information to Kenyan dairy farmers.

Indian woman arranges a display of grains and seeds at Millet Fest 2012, in Hyderabad on March 24, 2012. The three day event aims to promote use and increase knowledge of the nutritional benefits of millet seeds when used as part of a daily diet. Photo Credit: AFP

If you’re not familiar with the hackathon model, you’re not alone.  Government engagement with the tech community, though expanding, is limited.  And though hackathons bring together widely diverse communities to contribute their time and expertise to solve problems, they are not a flawless solution.  Rare is the startup that can convene and be commercially viable in 48 hours.  To increase the impact of the products of these hackathons, and ensure that those volunteering their time are doing so wisely, we have to improve on the existing model.

Enter White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, and his bold concept for public sector improvement of the hackathon model to connect developers directly to the people who will ultimately use their product, and to incubate solutions to be attractive to investors.  Under his model, weekend sessions are stretched across at least ninety days and buttress the hackathon with brainstorming and planning session weeks prior and an incubation period of the successful products for weeks following.  He outlines this model as an endeavor of the White House’s “Open Data Initiative” and, following on the successful implementation at HHS, has taken it to various other agencies including the Department of Energy, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Education, and USAID. Through his leadership, each agency has taken up the mantle of instituting their own open data initiatives.

USAID is  building its first data initiative around food security, and I encourage anyone who is curious to get involved.  All backgrounds and interests are welcome; participants need not be an expert in food security nor in software, a willingness to contribute to the efforts of innovative solutions and commercially viable products is all that’s required.  Writers, designers, networkers, and creative thinkers from all walks are welcome.  As access to information increases globally, so does the potential for innovation and great ideas to be borne and fomented across borders.  USAID is convening a global community to engage more directly with those who are willing to volunteer their time and expertise to the cause of development, and who want to work together to “hack” new and creative solutions to long-standing development priorities.  Just yesterday, Secretary Clinton observed “Data not only measures progress, it inspires it.” At USAID we want to build and support the platform for those who are inspired to create and sustain lasting progress.

For more information and to participate, visit agrilinks.org/openagdata and contact OpenAgData@USAID.Gov

USAID and Partners Kick Off LAUNCH: Beyond Waste Forum in Pasadena

The intense aura of intelligence that permeates NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA seems to signal that it is the perfect place for USAID and our partners to kick off this week’s LAUNCH: Beyond Waste Forum.  It is an incredible privilege—and, to be honest, a great deal of fun—to be at LAUNCH with a world-class group of experts and innovators.  This impressive group that crosses many sectors and industry boundaries will spend the next three days focusing on breakthrough technologies and problems that address some of the world’s toughest waste problems.

USAID and our partners NASA, Nike, and the Department of State formed LAUNCH to showcase and support extremely high potential innovators addressing the world’s most critical sustainability challenges.  LAUNCH: Beyond Waste is our fourth LAUNCH program cycle (previous cycles focused on water, health, and energy).  After a rigorous application and vetting process, we selected nine innovators we believe will make an outsized impact on waste issues in both the developed and developing worlds.  Through LAUNCH, we will spend the next six months working with them to accelerate that impact.

Waste is unfortunately one of the most neglected issues in international development practice.  While many donors in our field have only a few programs worldwide dedicated to waste issues, the waste challenges developing world citizens, organizations, and governments face are daunting.  In most major developing world cities and countries, the vast majority of municipal solid waste streams are not formally processed, while ‘eWaste’, medical waste, and agricultural waste streams (among others) often go unaddressed as well.  At the same time, “untapped” waste streams represent enormous potential resources when waste-to-energy and “upcycling” or recycling methods are applied.

Many of our LAUNCH: Beyond Waste innovators are building thriving businesses and programs based on that very premise: waste is often a resource and an opportunity, not an unfortunate byproduct of modern life.  This impressive group of innovators includes, for example:

Attero Reycling: India’s leading provider of “end-to-end” electronic and electrical goods e-Waste management services—likely the only such full service company in the developing world.

re:char: A leading developer and provider of ‘biochar’ operating in Kenya and the United States.  Biochar is a carbon-negative charcoal that can be used as a charcoal substitute and as a powerful soil amendment, which boosts crop yields.

Sanergy: A provider of sanitation infrastructure for Nairobi, Kenya’s slums and of fertilizer and electricity from its byproducts.

You can see the full list of the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste innovators and descriptions of their innovations.

We are thrilled with the bright and diverse group of people who have joined the LAUNCH Council, which will advise the innovators.  During the Forum, the innovators will engage in three days of collaboration with the Council, a group representing the waste, business, investment, international development, policy, engineering, science, communications, and sustainability sectors.  We have assembled the Council to give individualized advice to the innovators and to form a network that can help accelerate their progress in the coming months. Check out profiles of the LAUNCH Council members.

Please follow the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste Forum this Friday and Saturday (July 20 and 21, beginning at 1 PM EDT/10 AM PDT) and participate right along with us.  The Twitter hashtag is #beyondwaste and portions of the Forum will be streamed live.  You can also view and participate in the live conversation about the innovations.

Visit LAUNCH to learn more.

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