USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Innovation

Photo of the Week: U.S. & India Announce Innovation, Science, and Technology Awards

 

Yesterday, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah announced the Millennium Alliance (MA) winners in India. MA is a partnership between USAID, FICCI, and India’s Technology Development Board, Department of Science and Technology to support new innovations that strengthen early grade reading as well as increase access to clean and affordable energy, safe drinking water, quality health care, and a nutritious food supply to those most in need. Out of over 1,400 applications in the first round, nine awardees were announced on June 24 in New Delhi, India.

In this photo is one of the winners receiving the award certificate from Honorable Minister for Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Mr. S. Jaipal Reddy and USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah. Photo is from U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.

We the Geeks: Innovation for Global Good

This originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Geeks have had a lasting positive impact on the lives of millions of people in the developing world—from the innovations and insights that fueled the Green Revolution, to the historic scientific achievements that have marked the “Beginning of the End of AIDS.” Today, geeks are playing a central role in building technologies, making discoveries, building businesses, and engineering solutions that benefit people and communities around the world.

As President Obama and the First Lady travel to Africa next week, the White House will host a “We The Geeks” Google+ Hangout this Thursday, June 27 at 1:00 pm EST to discuss innovation for global good with some of the creative minds making it happen. These individuals are harnessing their science, engineering, and entrepreneurial skills to answer the President’s call to eradicate extreme poverty in the next two decades. The Hangout will be moderated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation, Tom Kalil. Speakers include:

  • Nikhil Jaisinghani and Brian Shaad, Co-founders, Mera Gao Power (MGP);
  • Vineet Bewtra, Director of Investments, Omidyar Network;
  • Maura O’Neill, Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Counselor, U.S. Agency for International Developmentand
  • Alix Zwane, Executive Director, Evidence Action.

Hangout participants will hear from leaders within and outside government, who are working together to spur game-changing innovations in global development. USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) program, for example, is seeding, testing, and scaling the next generation of powerful innovations in development from geeks the world over.

Read the rest of this post.

On the Front Lines in Africa

Nowhere is development such an important part of U.S. engagement as it is in Africa. In anticipation of the President’s trip next week, we thought we’d share some of our favorite FrontLines stories about our work in Africa. President Obama’s strategies on global development and Africa have laid the foundation for a new approach that focus on sustainable development and a new operational model for assistance. We look forward to the opportunities that this visit will bring.

Our Favorites include:

Food Security

Child Survival

Innovation

Women and Development

Conflict Mitigation and Prevention

  • Ethiopia: Peace Brokers: USAID-sponsored reconciliation efforts usher in historic truce accord in Ethiopia’s pastoral south.

Democracy, Human Rights, and Government

Humanitarian Assistance

Resilience

  • Niger: Niger’s Tree of Life: In the face of recurring food insecurity and acute malnutrition, USAID is promoting the cultivation of hardy, vitamin-packed moringa as one way to build resilience in communities in the drought-prone Sahel.

Follow @USAID and @rajshah on Twitter for updates on the trip and to learn more about our work in Africa. Join the conversation using #USAIDAfrica.

Water: A Unifying Issue: USAID’s New Global Water Strategy

Chris Holmes serves as USAID’s Global Water Coordinator.

In late May, when USAID launched its first global water strategy, Administrator Shah, Democrats and Republicans alike agreed on the message: solving the water and sanitation crises is critical. The goal of the USAID Water and Development Strategy is to save lives and improve development in a world where practically 800 million people are without adequate water and 2.5 billion people are without access to adequate sanitation. To achieve its goal, the strategy sets out two overarching strategic objectives: improve global health and strengthen global food security through USAID-supported water programs.

Partnering with faith-based and community organizations—as well as other stakeholders – is critical to meeting these objectives. It is through partnerships that we combine the resources, expertise and wisdom necessary to meet the needs of literally billions of people.

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call hosted by Ms. Melissa Rogers, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Participants on the call included WASH Advocates, Blood: Water Mission, the Millennium Water Alliance, EROD, PATH, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, World Vision, International Orthodox Christian Charities, Episcopal Relief and Development, Catholic Relief Services, Engineering Ministries International and Lifewater International.  During our call, we covered a wide range of activities—partnerships— to save and improve lives.  One participant noted that it was exciting to see the strategy’s emphasis on women, in particular engaging women in WASH programming and leadership as well as focusing the strategy on countries and regions where we can have greatest impact.  Others on the call addressed such matters as watershed management, evaluation, and the impact on NGOs of channeling development resources through national governments.

Regarding country focus, we discussed how the strategy advances activities consistent with the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 such as establishing criteria to designate high-priority countries for increased investments to support access to safe water and sanitation. We are designing criteria that designate which countries will receive water and sanitation funding. The criteria are based on a combination of factors, such as high childhood mortality rates due to diarrhea, and the capacity of governments to manage and sustain effective programs. Ethiopia is an example of a country that could meet the criteria. It has the requisite infrastructure, governance and institutional experience for USAID water programs that have a transformative impact.

Turning to engaging women in our water programs, we addressed the USAID-supported Somalia School Environment and Education Development Program (SEEDS) which plays an important role in providing water, sanitation and privacy needed to help keep young women in schools, as well as the Afghanistan Sustainable Water Supply and Sanitation Project (SWSS) where USAID is building the capacity of the Afghan government and local communities to provide potable water and sanitation facilities and to improve hygiene behavior. An important component of this program is to engage women in the delivery of training.

We also talked about the importance of setting and meeting specific targets. The strategy sets targets for a minimum number of people to be reached over five years: 10 million with sustainable water services and 6 million with sustainable sanitation services. The strategy emphasizes the need for increased investments and expanded attention to sanitation to translate into broader health and economic benefits. In Ethiopia, the USAID- supported Hygiene Improvement program (PDF) facilitated the implementation of the Government’s National Hygiene and Sanitation strategy. More than 5.8 million people in the Amhara region have been reached by hygiene and sanitation promotion activities, and an estimated 2.8 million people have stopped the practice of open defecation and now use a basic pit latrine.

In order to meet our objectives, the strategy relies on partnerships, innovation, and sustainable approaches. An example of USAID’s focus on innovation in the WASH sector is the Development Innovation Ventures (DIV). Through WASH for Life, our partnership with the Gates Foundation, DIV is testing and scaling promising, cost-effective solutions in water, sanitation, and hygiene. DIV recently announced its biggest award yet to the Dispensers for Safe Water program. This approach seeks to scale safe drinking water to more than 5 million, including 1.6 million children, over the next three years. Ensuring long-term sustainability of water and sanitation infrastructure interventions is a central component of the strategy.

Clearly, faith-based and community organizations and our other partners play such a critical role in meeting the needs of millions of people. As was the case in our conference call , we learn a great deal from our partners. In this regard, I would also like to thank USAID’s Office of Faith Based Community Initiatives for its role in linking faith-based and community organizations with USAID’s global water related efforts.

Video of the Week: Our New Partnership for Global Development Innovation Ventures

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID) announced last week plans to build a global investment platform that reimagines how to support breakthrough solutions to the world’s most intractable development challenges.

Innovation has yielded dramatic gains in global prosperity. The mission of Global Development Innovation Ventures (GDIV) will be to focus resources in international development towards innovative approaches with proven, radically successful results.

GDIV will adopt the model of the Development Innovation Ventures program at USAID, designed to source powerful solutions from anywhere in the world, test them using rigorous methods and staged financing, and bring to scale those that offer more value for money than standard practice and improve the lives of millions. It will unlock investment capital from both private and public sectors, to scale solutions commercially or through public sector adoption.

Learn more about GDIV.

Accounting for Tomorrow: Partnerships for a Better World

As a former investment banker and CPA, I understand firsthand the importance that companies place on their bottom lines and creating shareholder value. Through my years of development experience, I have also come to appreciate how sustainable development in emerging market countries is critical to corporate bottom lines. Yet, longstanding development issues such as clean water, stable governments, an educated citizenry, and many others cannot be successfully solved solely through development assistance.

Members of Devex's Strategic Advisory Council meet with USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg and IDEA Deputy Director Ricardo Michel at its inaugural meeting. Photo credit: Pat Adams, USAID

Fortunately, I see the landscape evolving. Companies are increasingly looking at development as a core strategy issue rather than a matter of corporate philanthropy. Through innovative alliances, USAID is partnering with corporations, private foundations, other donor agencies, philanthropists, NGOs, social entrepreneurs and diaspora communities to mobilize the ideas, efforts, approaches and resources of all partners towards common goals.

That is why I am excited about the launch of Devex Impact’s Strategic Advisory Council. In their commitment to this initiative, the Council’s corporate, donor and NGO leaders have embraced the importance of public-private partnerships—that global challenges cannot be solved by one sector alone. The founding members of the Council—AusAID, The Boeing Company, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), Chevron, DFID, Exxon Mobile, GAVI Alliance, IBM,  KPMG, and Orange—will provide advice to enhance Devex Impact, a collaborative website initiative by USAID and Devex, that brings together corporate, NGO, foundation, and government actors around public-private partnerships for development.

At our first Council meeting on June 3, Raj Kumar, President and Editor-in-Chief of Devex and I led a discussion of how business and development are coming together more now than ever before. Listening to representatives on the Council share their insights on developing trends in the business world confirmed for me that the 1,600 public-private partnerships built by USAID over the past decade are just the beginning. With developing countries now representing over half of global GDP and an even greater percentage of GDP growth, the places where USAID works today are the customer bases and workforces of tomorrow.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Rio de Janeiro. It was an amazing gathering of private and public sector leaders, all focused on defying boundaries to get at the crux of the world’s problems. It also reinforced for me the idea at the core of Devex Impact—that partnerships are key to enduring development. In order to bring the message of partnerships to a broader audience, we need a platform that gathers partnership builders, enabling them to share their experiences and lessons, and connecting them to each other—and future partnership opportunities.

This is exactly what Devex Impact is doing today.

As the “go-to” site for business and development, Devex Impact showcases incredible collaborations taking place across the globe. It is a resource for companies and organizations of all sizes looking to tell the story of doing business in emerging markets. And it is a tool for professionals looking to create more sustainable supply chains, develop new business models to reach consumers at the base of the pyramid, and partner with local and international organizations. Devex Impact enables partnership builders to connect with peers across industries and disciplines to build the partnerships of tomorrow.

I encourage you to learn more about the amazing work being done by Devex Impact, the Strategic Advisory Council, and partnerships around the world at devex.com/impact.

The Positive Impacts of Transparency

At USAID, we feel fortunate to work on an incredible Mission to achieve results for the poorest  and most vulnerable around the world and to be transparent in the process. We are propelled by the belief that transparent aid is effective aid and the necessity of delivering “clear, compelling and measurable results.” The importance of making governmental and aid data open is underscored by the President’s Executive Order to make open and machine readable the new default for government information.

Shadrock Roberts talks about crowdsourcing in June 2012. Photo credit: USAID

The GeoCenter, in the Office of Science and Technology, takes this commitment to heart when evaluating projects, such as our collaboration with the Development Credit Authority for the Agency’s first-ever crowdsourcing event to open and map loan guarantee data. Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving process whereby tasks are outsourced to a network of people known as “the crowd.” Without the staff or resources to pinpoint the geographic location of thousands of loan records on our own, we turned to a crowd of volunteers to help. The resulting maps, data, and methodology are available on the USAID website. While the crowdsourcing event clearly succeeded in creating an open data set and maps about where USAID is promoting economic growth, we wanted to know more. Did we catalyze a public discussion about USAID? Is our data really usable? Does the public really care about accessing our data?

We’ve recently compared conversations about the event on Twitter to web page visits and found that we did catalyze discussion and that the public is eager to engage with USAID’s data: see our analysis here (PDF). Our web page is in the top 3 percent of the most viewed web pages on the entire USAID.gov site. On average, our viewers spend almost four times as long viewing our page than any other. Almost 3,500 tweets from 80 countries demonstrate global enthusiasm for open data. The reverberations of this enthusiasm positively impacted the dialogue around aid transparency: the International Aid Transparency Initiative expanded their data schema to account for loan guarantees and the event was recognized in the Publish What you Fund’s Aid Transparency Report Card for 2012 (PDF).

These impacts are the results of public participation in USAID’s programs and the public’s desire for open government data. We’re thankful for the outpouring of support that the event received: private companies donated time to develop online tools so volunteers could donate their time to process the data, which is now one of the most popular features of the USAID web site.

Interview with NASA Astronaut Colonel Ronald J. Garan: Working with USAID to bring Global Development to the Next Frontier

Beginning June 2013, USAID will begin a Q&A interview series on our Impact Blog. The first in this series is an interview with NASA astronaut, Colonel Ronald J. Garan, who is temporarily assigned to USAID in the Office of Science and Technology.

In this interview, Colonel Garan discusses his journey to becoming a NASA astronaut and his interest in international development.

Astronaut Ronald J. Garan Photo Credit: NASA

Q: When did you decide you wanted to be an astronaut?

A: On July 20, 1969. That was the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I was seven. I was only a little kid, so I never would have thought to put it this way, but even then I knew that this meant something big. Humanity had changed. Something exciting was happening, and I wanted to be a part of it. So after serving in the Air Force as a test pilot, I finally realized my dream and became a part of the space program in 2000.

Q: What got you interested in international development?

A: Well, I’ve had two passions in my career. First, I wanted to fly in space and contribute to the space program. And secondly, I’ve always been passionate about making life on Earth a little bit better. When you’re looking at the earth from space, it re-shapes your perspective. You can’t help but appreciate the sobering contradiction between the beauty of our planet and the unfortunate realities of life on our planet for a significant number of its inhabitants. I wanted to make a difference.

Q: So now that you are on detail with USAID, what exactly are you working on?

A: As I became more involved with international development and humanitarian work, I saw firsthand just how much duplication of effort exists in the field. We could make development progress much more rapidly by collaborating more efficiently. So I spend a lot of time and energy working on a universal open source platform for collaboration. My dream is to be a part of a collaborative platform that allows international organizations, governments, NGOs, socially-oriented businesses, and entrepreneurs to all collaborate together, speaking the same “language” to achieve common development goals.

Q: What do you see as the most promising new technology in the international development field?

A: Without question, the exponential increase in the ability of computers to solve problems. I can’t say what form that will take in fifty years, or even five years. But the rapid and low-cost diffusion of computing power will ultimately have profound impacts on global health, food security, conflict mitigation… few aspects of USAID’s work will remain untouched by these profound changes.

Helping Others During Hurricane Season

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

The 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially begins on June 1 and is expected to be very active. Preparing your family and home for hurricanes is important.  But what about preparing yourself to assist others–do you know how to effectively help those who are impacted by disasters? The best way to help is easier than you think and works 100% of the time.

The simplest disaster readiness activity is also the most cost-effective and the least time-consuming for donors–monetary donations to credible relief organizations working on-site. Each disaster is unique and affects people and infrastructure differently. Monetary donations enable relief workers to respond to evolving needs as those affected migrate to safety, resettle, and eventually rebuild their communities.

Unsolicited donations delivered to Samoa after the 2009 earthquake and tsunami took up space needed by relief organizations to sort and deliver vital emergency supplies. Photo credit: Richard Muffley, USAID CIDI

Most people react to disaster events overseas by collecting clothing, canned food and bottled water for survivors. While well-intended, many of these items actually remain in the U.S. because of the high fees and cost required to transport the donated goods to a foreign country.  Others items are turned away at their destination because they are not tied to a response organization or are deemed inappropriate. For example, thirty-four countries have banned the importation of used clothing and may decline collections that arrive. In reality, needs of disaster-affected people are carefully assessed by relief professionals on-site, who provide the right goods in sufficient quantities at the right time.

USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information recently rolled out a Greatest Good Donations Calculator, created by the Colleges of Engineering and Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island. This calculator illustrates the costs of sending unsolicited donations. For example, let’s say someone purchases a teddy bear for $19.99 in Washington, D.C., intending to send it to Apia, the capital city of Samoa. According to the calculator, the total cost to send this bear (including transportation and other fees) would be a whopping $273.43! By contrast, the same amount of money could be used by a relief organization to purchase 54,686 liters of clean water locally, helping more than 27,300 people.

Monetary contributions to established relief agencies in affected areas purchase exactly what survivors need when they need it. They support local merchants and local economies, and ensure that beneficiaries receive supplies that are fresh, familiar, and culturally, nutritionally and environmentally appropriate.

For more information on effective donations, visit USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information.

Using Science to Warn Countries About Deadly Flash Floods

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer and the most fatal side effect of hurricanes. They kill thousands of people every year and cause millions of dollars in damage by destroying buildings and bridges, uprooting trees and overflowing rivers within mere minutes.

Flash floods occur when excess water caused by heavy and rapid rainfall from tropical storms or hurricanes cannot be quickly absorbed into the earth. This fast-moving water can be extremely powerful, reaching heights of more than 30 feet. But it takes only six inches of water to knock a person to the ground or 18 inches to float a moving car.

USAID responds to more floods than any other type of natural disaster, like this one in Trinidad, Bolivia in 2003. Photo credit: USAID

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance recognizes that while flash floods are deadly in even the most developed countries, they can really wreak havoc in densely populated regions around the world that lack strong infrastructure. Hurricane-prone regions throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are especially vulnerable, which is why USAID works with host countries year-round to help them prepare.

Even though the onset of flash floods is almost immediate, it is possible to give up to a six hour window of advanced notice—just enough time to save lives.

The advanced warning is given through the Flash Flood Guidance System, a scientific method of accumulating rainfall data and analyzing the rate at which the ground absorbs it. USAID works closely with meteorological experts in hurricane-prone countries, training them on how this system works so that they can be on the lookout for potential flash floods. Using the system gives disaster-prone countries the opportunity to use those crucial six hours before a flash flood hits to implement emergency plans and move as many people out of harm’s way.

Six hours may seem like a lot of lead time, but it’s actually not when you’re rushing to alert remote and heavily populated villages—with limited communication—about an approaching disaster. Flash floods can’t be prevented, but USAID is committed to helping people better prepare for and recover from them. Because when it comes to saving lives and alleviating suffering, every minute counts.

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