USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Innovation

Understanding the Wants and Needs of Women Living Under $2 a Day

As development practitioners, do we adequately understand our target beneficiaries before programs are implemented?  Are we doing our ‘market research’ before investing resources, to best comprehend the wants and needs of those we intend to assist?  Yes, but only to some extent.  The development community has a variety of tools at its disposal, developed and tweaked over decades, to give us insight and analysis into the lives of our target audiences.  But rarely do they offer a deep, deep dive.

A woman on a phone in India. Photo Credit: GSMA

New research released today at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona offers a refreshing approach to understanding women who live at the base of the pyramid, often under $2/day.  The GSMA mWomen Program, whose overall goal is to reduce the mobile phone gender gap in the developing world by 50%, has spent much of the past twelve months carrying out quantitative and qualitative research of more than 2,500 women in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.

The findings illustrate the lives, struggles and aspirations of women who often represent the backbone of their families and communities, yet rarely are afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams.  The research, funded by USAID and AusAID, identifies the unique socio-economic and cultural factors that influence and shape women’s lives, framed in part by their attitudes towards mobile ownership. 

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We must do better than cash

Cash can stifle economic development.  That might seem counterintuitive.  Aid is critical to ameliorating the plight of poor people living on far less a day than we spend on a latte.  But physical cash can undercut many development objectives the U.S. government works to achieve.  From improving aid effectiveness to shining a light on corruption to unleashing the private sector, cash gets in the way.   If you care about reducing poverty, then you must also care about reducing the reliance on physical cash.

USAID is helping Haiti increase financial inclusion through the advance of mobile money. Photo Credit: USAID

We begin a movement to do just that.  USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is announcing a broad set of reforms to use USAID’s $22 billion financial footprint as a force for good—as a way to reduce the development industry’s dependence on cash.  This includes integrating new language into USAID contracts and grants to encourage the use of electronic and mobile payments and launching new programs in 10 countries designed to catalyze the scale of innovative payments platforms.  Based on examples in Kenya, Haiti, Mexico and Brazil, we believe that our implementing partners will generate at least 15% efficiency gains in their operations by 2016.

This movement would not have been possible 5 or 10 years ago.  The infrastructure did not exist.  But the rapid rise of the mobile phone—there are now nearly 4.5 billion mobile phones in the developing world—in tandem with electronic cards makes it possible today.   We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass—this movement cannot be a movement of one.  Indeed, USAID’s assistance is a big drop but still a drop in the development bucket.   This must be a movement that crosses sectors and borders—private companies with extensive supply chains and governments with large disbursements must join together to leverage electronic payments platforms.  Here’s why we must do better than cash.

First, cash costs money.  It is ironic, but paying teacher salaries or issuing social transfers is expensive.  You need money to hire couriers to lug big bags of cash around—and leakages are inevitable.  Think of electronic or mobile payments as the functional equivalent of epoxy paste—they seal the cracks in the payment edifice and prevent leakages.

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Game Changing Innovations through New Relationships with Universities

Applications Now Open in Unprecedented Opportunity to Collaborate and Push the Innovation Bar

USAID-related science programs assist in expanding training for women. Photo Credit: Zahur Ramji (AKDN)

We are proud to announce the Higher Education Solutions Network Request for Applications (RFA), which invites higher education institutions to compete to join USAID as new strategic, long-term partners to have a greater impact on development through creative partnerships. From USAID’s start 50 years ago, partnering with universities and research organizations has been part of the Agency’s vision.  Over the years we have worked with partners on sector-specific projects, but today we are pursuing an unprecedented relationship with academic institutions as part of our effort to open the field to a broader range of actors and leverage the assets available through science and technology. USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network program aims to engage students and faculty and catalyze the enthusiasm on campuses for international development, making it easier to turn advocacy and ideas on campus into action and results in the field.

We are launching the Higher Education Solutions Network in order to reconnect over the long-term with universities and academic institutions for three reasons:

  • We aim to leverage their research assets to provide evidence and analysis that can feed into USAID policy
  • We want to test and scale new models for development which includes developing and creating new technologies.
  • We aim to foster an ecosystem where multi-disciplinary approaches are promoted.

We’d like to work with universities and higher education institutions to understand how students can be empowered to shift from saying, “What’s your major?” to “What’s the problem you want to solve?”

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Harnessing Science, Technology, and Innovation To Promote Global Development

Originally posted on the White House blog

Today at the White House, senior Administration officials announced a series of new initiatives to promote game-changing innovations to solve long-standing development challenges.  Answering President Obama’s call to harness science technology, and innovation to spark global development, the Administration announced initiatives from across the government to generate new development solutions.  Announcements include new partnerships with universities; greater use of scientific breakthroughs through expedited technology transfer of federally-funded inventions; a program to reward inventors who use their patented technologies to address humanitarian needs; and initiatives to leverage advances in Internet and communications technologies to provide new development tools.

In an increasingly globalized world, the Obama Administration recognizes that global development is vital to national security and is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative.  One of the cornerstones of our global development policy is a commitment to investments in game-changing innovations with the potential to solve long-standing development challenges in health, food security, environmental sustainability, and broad-based economic growth.  Innovation can play a key role in building a stable, inclusive global economy with new sources of prosperity, advancing democracy and human rights, and helping us to increase the ranks of prosperous, capable, and democratic states that can be our partners in the decades to come.

Administrator Raj Shah announced that USAID is launching a new partnership with universities and research institutes to define and solve large development challenges.  USAID also announced new commitments to increased utilization of electronic and mobile payments to save on costs and increase financial access; a new effort to make assistance to other governments in telecommunications development more efficient; a new “app store” for development to spur humanitarian apps and software; and new commitments to mobile education technology as part of USAID’s All Children Reading grand challenge for development.

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Open for Questions: Innovation for Global Development

Originally posted on the White House blog

On Wednesday, February 8 at 9am, the White House will host an event to highlight how the government and the private sector are harnessing science, technology, and innovation to promote global development. Speakers from the White House, U.S. Agency for International Development, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and the private sector will join participants from universities, industry, and nonprofits for a discussion of innovation and global development. Watch live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

Later in the day, at 11:00 a.m., Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development, Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director of the National Security Council and Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy & Senior Advisor for Science, Technology, and Innovation, National Economic Council will take your questions on the role of science, technology and innovation in global development.

  • What: Open for Questions: Innovation for Global Development
  • Who:Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development, Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director of the National Security Council and Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy & Senior Advisor for Science, Technology, and Innovation, National Economic Council
  • When: Wednesday, February 8 at 11:00 a.m. ET
  • Where: Watch live at WhiteHouse.gov/live and submit your questions via Facebook, Twitter using the hashtag #WHChat or our webform.

Erin Lindsay is Deputy Director of Online Engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House.

Can Mobile Money Transform a Country?

Two years after the earthquake, Haiti is rebuilding not just brick by brick, but click by click.

A message confirms the deposit of a new customer who is signing up for Digicel’s Tcho Tcho mobile banking on March 3, 2011, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The earthquake left behind a government in rubble, an economy in shambles, and a people living in makeshift camps, coping with enormous loss.  Against this backdrop, the possibility of progress lives not just in the resilient spirit of the Haitian people, but also in the simple power of their mobile phones.

In June 2010, USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Haiti Mobile Money Initiative (HMMI)(PDF, 163KB). This program leveraged the private sector and the ubiquity of mobile phones to bring financial services to Haitians, 90 percent of whom didn’t have access to a bank account before the earthquake destroyed nearly one-third of the country’s bank branches, ATMs, and money transfer stations.  Put simply, mobile money gives Haitians access to banking without building a single bank.

It worked.  In January 2011, one year after the earthquake, HMMI awarded Digicel and its partner bank, Scotiabank, a “First to Market” Award of $2.5 million for “Tcho Tcho Mobile.” Five months ago, HMMI awarded mobile operator Voila and their bank partner, Unibank, $1.5 million for “T-Cash.”  While verification is still underway, data reported by the industry indicate that there are nearly 800,000 registered users.  Moreover, there are over 800 agent locations now available to serve clients.  In a country where there are fewer than two bank branches per 100,000 people, this represents a near doubling of accessible financial services.

These numbers are significant, but what do they mean for the people of Haiti?  Why should we care about the growth of mobile money in Haiti and the rest of the developing world? 

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Crowd Sourcing Development Innovation in India

India has become synonymous with innovation.  Inexpensive mHealth applications.  The Tata Nano. Low cost eye surgery. These are just a handful of the frugal innovations that India has developed and is now exporting.  With a booming social enterprise sector, a number of the world’s leading academics, Nobel Prize winners and thinkers, a vibrant private sector, and world-class NGOs like Pratham, India has been dubbed the innovation hub for the West.

In light of this innovation boom, Administrator Raj Shah challenged us to think about how we could harness the enormous creativity and frugal innovation found in India, and how we could partner to find and scale high-impact development solutions that drive down the cost of development and get results faster—not just for India but for the rest of the developing world, and even here in the United States.   USAID has had great success in significantly reducing HIV transmission rates and was within reach of eradicating polio in India. How could we do more of that while thinking globally, not just locally?

We didn’t have to look further than Lalitesh Katragadda, who is an Indian citizen who earned his robotics PhD at Carnegie Mellon.  Lalitesh joined Google when it was a start-up, and then returned to India to both grow the engineering talent base and search for inexpensive ways to solve some of the world’s most troubling development challenges. With a group of volunteers he came up with a way to get the world to map its neighborhoods. The Pakistanis used the new Google Map Maker during the devastating floods last year to locate 800,000 people. They told Lalitesh that the maps helped them save an estimated 250,000 flood victims’ lives, all with a crowd sourcing tool. This is an inexpensive solution at scale. This is what is sorely needed.

Today USAID is announcing a partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI); one of the largest microfinance organizations in India, Basix; and an Indian venture operation, Infinity Innovation Fund. The focus is to source and scale development solutions being developed and tested in India that will benefit vulnerable populations across the country and the rest of the world.

The Millennium Alliance: An India-US Innovation Partnership for Global Development will raise $50 million in seed capital, grants, loans, guarantees, and technical support for base of the pyramid solutions. The Alliance will be modeled on USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures to deliver maximum development impact by focusing on cost-effective solutions, rigorous testing and evaluation, and transition to scale via public and private pathways. USAID has committed $7.5 million to help launch the partnership with the Indian businesses matching it.

We knew FICCI was the right partner when we saw on the Boardroom entry wall a picture of Mahatma Gandhi and quote from his FICCI address in 1927, which read, “The industry should regard themselves as trustees of the poor.” Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Secretary General of FICCI embodies that motto- smart business and caring about those currently left behind.

Together we are eager to create a new, transformational relationship with India that marries USAID’s continuing and sustained efforts to make American taxpayer dollars go further and India’s potential as a global innovation laboratory to lift up the world’s poor.

USAID and Partners Kick Off LAUNCH: Energy

There is something incredibly powerful about working alongside innovators and entrepreneurs who are on the brink of deploying products and technologies with the potential to solve longstanding development problems.  As USAID and our partners prepare to kick off the LAUNCH: Energy Forum this Friday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, we are eagerly awaiting that exact opportunity.

The LAUNCH experience is challenging and affirming all at once.  For many of us, it is a singular reminder of why we chose to work in international development or on global environmental sustainability issues: to do our own small part in solving humanity’s most critical problems.  In joining together to form LAUNCH, USAID, NASA, the U.S. Department of State, and Nike, Inc. declared our intention to work together toward that very goal.

As anyone who travels or works regularly in the developing world knows, access to clean, sustainable, and affordable sources of energy is one of the 21st century’s largest development challenges.  Even basic levels of access to power can make a substantial impact on the challenges faced by off-grid communities.  With basic access to energy, school children can study at home at night, health clinics can refrigerate vaccines, and consumers can charge the household appliances and devices that make daily life more productive and convenient.  Through LAUNCH, we will showcase and support over the next six months some of the most promising technologies and programs that take on important parts of this energy access challenge.  LAUNCH has convened a truly impressive group of energy innovators.  They include, for example:

  • A micro/mini-grid solution for underserved communities that utilizes modular battery storage technology, energy management intelligence, and a pre-payment model (“Gram Power”);
  • An economical fuel cell for developing country markets that allows battery charging in cooking pits or fires, offering an affordable way for off-grid consumers to charge cell phones and power household lighting (“Point Source Power”);
  • A rural refrigeration system for commercial cold-storage applications in off-grid and partially electrified areas of developing countries (“Promethean Power Systems”).

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

We are equally excited about 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 world-class group representing the 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.

We know this weekend will be an invigorating experience for our partners, the innovators, and the Council members alike.  We look forward to both the intensive collaboration this weekend and to the subsequent work through our “LAUNCH Accelerator” of helping advance some of the world’s most promising energy innovations.

Please follow the LAUNCH: Energy Forum this Friday and Saturday (November 11 and 12) and participate right along with us.  Portions of the Forum will be viewable live from www.launch.org, where you can also learn more about LAUNCH.

Investing in High-impact, Low-cost Innovations that Save Lives

Dr. Christopher J. Elias is president and CEO of PATH, an international nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health.

A new mother experiencing excessive bleeding after childbirth can die within minutes if the bleeding isn’t stopped. For women in developing countries, time too often runs out before they can get help. Postpartum hemorrhage is the leading cause of maternal mortality—deaths that cause a ripple effect on the children, families, and communities left behind.

What if a simple device costing less than $10 could save a new mother’s life? USAID is building on its decades-long partnership with PATH by investing in our effort to develop a cost-effective solution: a balloon tamponade that can stop postpartum bleeding within 5 to 15 minutes and can be used in peripheral health facilities.

With a new grant of approximately $100,000 from Development Innovation Ventures—USAID’s new venture capital–style fund—we will adapt this existing technology to make it affordable in developing countries. Our goal is to lower the price from as much as $312 per device to less than $10 by streamlining the design and manufacturing process.

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USAID’s Frontlines – June/July 2011

Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines for these stories focusing on the Agency’s work in Science and Technology and Climate Change:

  • The United States is helping developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve their resilience to the effects of climate change
  • Warns Vermont’s Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy: “We are facing a global environmental crisis that may be catastrophic for future generations …”
  • With Peru’s tropical glaciers melting fast due to rising greenhouse gas emissions, soaring temperatures and erratic rainfall, USAID and its partners are working quickly to mitigate the damage and help Peruvians adapt
  • John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, says there are both great challenges and great opportunities today to use science, technology and innovation to introduce improvements to the developing world
  • In trying to predict future trends – foresight research is the technical term – USAID experts look closely at several factors to improve the odds that Agency programs will have the desired impacts now and withstand the tests of time

Read these stories and much more in the new issue of FrontLines. If you want to receive an e-mail reminder when the latest issue has been posted online, subscribe here.

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