USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Innovation

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.

13 Year Old Innovator Invents Device to Save People in Rural Africa

I know it is not every day that a 13-year-old American boy invents a device to save people in rural Africa.  I often am asked how it happened.

Chase tests out the device. Photo Credit: Rescue Travois

My mom sat my family down at the kitchen table one day and started reading aloud from a news article about the terrible toll of the 2011 Somali famine.

During the famine, hundreds of children who were too weak to walk were left by the roadside to die when their parents could no longer carry them on the long trek to a refugee center.  Parents were forced to decide which children lived, and which were left behind.

When I heard this, I thought no one should have to make such a choice, so I set to work trying to find a solution.  The harder I looked, the more I realized that there was not one yet in use. This was due to the fact that rural Africa has a severe dearth of simple wheeled transportation.

What a few rural Africans do have is a bike or wheelbarrow, neither of which is meant to carry people.

I realized that if I wanted to help in situations like the famine, I would need to come up with a device that would be: (1) simple for the refugees to use; (2) inexpensive so it could be produced in bulk; (3) hands-free so parents could carry children in their arms as well as in the device; (4) collapsible so it could be air-dropped onto the most-used refugee roads; and (5) easily assembled using just visual instructions.

I based my invention on the “travois,” a device created by the Native American Plains Indians to carry their belongings as they moved to follow the buffalo herds.  The travois is basically two poles from a teepee crossed at a main vertex and dragged behind a horse.

I spent seven months prototyping a more modern version that is collapsible, has wheels, and is hands-free.

USAID Innovation Officer meets young innovator Chase Lewis. Photo Credit: USAID

During that time, I was contacted by Meg Wirth, CEO of Maternova (and co-author of the UN’s MDG report on child and maternal health), who told me that the Rescue Travois has more applications than just in refugee situations.  She said it could be used to transport those in need of medical attention, especially women in delivery distress, from small villages to larger ones with doctors (a task often carried out with a wheelbarrow or an old door as a makeshift stretcher).  The Rescue Travois could make the trip both faster and more comfortable.

A friend of mine is a refugee from Chad and knows from hard personal experiences how much the Rescue Travois is needed for medical as well refugee purposes.  He helped me share this reality in a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sirA64d6OVo) as well as in our meeting last week with USAID CIO Dr. Maura O’Neill.

The travois also could be used in subsistence farming or in water carrying.  If the travois were made out of bamboo with simple lashings for the vertices, it would be inexpensive and easy for village carpenters to produce.  The travois would proliferate, potentially revolutionizing simple wheeled transportation in rural Africa.

A team of companies (including a wheel manufacturer), organizations, and individuals are coming together to make the Rescue Travois a reality.  Learn more at: http://rescuetravois.wordpress.com/.

Clean Hands Inc. – 5 Questions with Bear Valley Ventures

Bear Valley Ventures, a grantee of USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) program, is investigating how to radically improve hand hygiene habits in India, through product innovation. Bear Valley and partners created Clean Hands Inc (CHI) to develop new products for the urban poor that can be used by households with substandard or no sanitation and constrained access to water. With support from DIV, they have launched their pilot. 

Where did the inspiration for your approach come from?

The evidence that improved hand hygiene can have a positive impact on health is clear and there’s increasing interest globally in promoting handwashing with soap. But in the settings we are interested in – urban slums – there are many practical reasons why soap may not always be the best solution. Reasons like water being a valued resource people don’t want to waste and soaps lack of portability when people go to the toilet outside the home.

Youth in India. Photo Credit: Walter Gibson

What makes your approach different?

Like many with an eye on public health around the globe we want to improve hand hygiene at scale in a way that’s sustainable. However, our approach is different in three ways. First, our products are exclusively designed to get hands germ free post-defecation. Not because other moments like before food don’t matter but because we think defecation is a missed opportunity – what soap manufacturer wants their brand associated first and foremost with defecation! Products for post-defecation need a different functionality and positioning, and we think it’s  easier to target than eating in low-income settings as it can be made more routine. Second, we aim to get to scale through a social business model, which no one else is trying to do in this area. And third, not only are our product formats novel but we have a product ingredient that sets us apart, Byotrol®.

What are the first steps you you’ve taken to get your pilot of the ground so far?

As the funding kicked in, our first step was to fly straight to India to meet with research design agency Quicksand, our partner. Together we checked out one of our products – a foam that doesn’t need rinsing – with households in slums in Bangalore; met experts with whom we’ll work over the coming year on issues like distribution, positioning, and packaging; and re-worked our plan for the year. In parallel we’re working with Byotrol Consumer Products Ltd, our technology partner, on product formulations, which will incorporate their unique anti-microbial technology Byotrol®.

What have your biggest challenges been so far? What will be your biggest challenges in the future?

There are so many challenges it’s hard to know where to start! On the hygiene side we’re trying to innovate practices people do habitually and unconsciously. They are not driven by a belief that if I don’t clean my hands properly someone could get sick or die. So we’re not tapping into a desire that exists and will have to create one. On the product side affordability and distribution are huge challenges. And as a team we have to make sure that we use everything that happens over the coming year – including the set backs, to learn and move forward to achieve our vision of improving health through hand hygiene where it matters most.

 

 

 

 

USAID Brings New Communications Options to Remote Communities in Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

In late April, residents across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were pleasantly surprised to receive phone calls from friends and relatives living in the remote northeastern corner of the country. For the first time, the people of Niangara, in the heavily-forested Haut Uélé District of Orientale Province, have access to a cellular communications network in their isolated community. This breakthrough in communications potential is part of a public-private partnership between USAID and Vodacom Congo to pilot four low-cost and light-weight “AltoPod” base transmission stations that will provide cellular coverage in remote, conflict-affected areas of Haut Uélé and Bas Uélé Districts.

Satellite communications equipment at Niangara cellular tower site. Photo credit: Vodacom Congo

The first Vodacom pilot tower, in Niangara, went live on April 21, 2013, and will be followed in the coming days and weeks by the activation of additional towers in Bangadi, Doruma, and Ango. Each of the four towers, all partially funded by USAID, will provide a minimum of 315 square kilometers of cell phone connectivity to 1,200 mobile phone users. This project represents one of the most technologically advanced communications initiatives attempted in the DRC. While the new base transmission station technology, pioneered by the Ireland-based Altobridge company, has proven effective and profitable for mobile network operators in a handful of areas around the world with similar profiles – low population density and poor infrastructure – it is only now being tested by a mobile network operator in the DRC. Should the pilot project prove economically viable for the company, it is envisioned that Vodacom Congo or other DRC mobile network operators will branch into additional remote regions of the country currently still lacking cellular coverage.

In launching this pilot project, USAID is seeking to increase communications options in isolated corners of the DRC that have been subject to armed attacks. This expansion of cellular coverage opens the door to potential advances in a variety of different domains, including civilian protection, humanitarian response, public service delivery, and economic activity. It is up to the individual community members in each of the target sites to decide how to best make use of this new cellular connectivity to improve their daily lives. From mobile banking applications to the exchange of health-related information to increased citizen communication with government, security, and humanitarian actors – a host of new possibilities are now available for communities to consider.

Video of the Week: Clean Kumasi: Digital Tools to Transform Urban Waste Management

In the fall of 2012, IDEO.org partnered with Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor to tackle the issue of open defecation. IDEO.org and WSUP were the recipients of a Development Innovation Ventures  Stage One grant to test a hypothesis that the application of digital tools could effectively change behavior related to the management of human waste.

Building off the lessons learned from rural community-led total sanitation efforts, the team worked to adapt that methodology to an urban context.

The team designed a system that allowed community members to report instances of open defecation by calling them in, in response to signs posted around the neighborhood. This information fed into a database of contacts managed by a community organizer who then called the participants to gather for meetings and clean-ups.

This video shows the IDEO.org and WSUP teams in action – from organizing hackathons in San Francisco to conducting field work in Kumasi, Ghana, live prototyping of the mobile platform and technology, and ultimately to the community gatherings and clean-ups.

IDEO.org’s project is supported by the DIV and Gates Foundation WASH for Life Partnership. Read more about the partnership’s new grantees.

Folow @DIVatUSAID  on Twitter and join the conversation with #DIVWash.

The Road to a ‘Data Ecosystem’ for Modern Abolitionists

In March, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners announced the winners of its Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) Campus Challenge Tech Contest– a global call to college students to develop creative technology solutions to help prevent human trafficking. USAID invited some of the contest winners and participants to Washington, D.C., this April to participate in the White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking and discuss their winning concepts with USAID staff and partner organizations – this is a blog about one of the student’s trip to Washington.

I consider it a tremendous privilege to contribute to the fight against modern day slavery. I remember a student conference in 2003, listening to the speaker’s impassioned plea to intervene on the behalf of those in chains, and yet, despite many attempts to get connected to the work of fighting human trafficking, it took the better part of the last decade for me to plug into the field.  Remembering this time of frustrated passion, I am so encouraged seeing initiatives like USAID’s Challenge Slavery invite people into the movement and engage new generations of abolitionists. There is a new spirit in the anti-trafficking movement – perhaps, the simple realization that we can now call it a “movement” captures this sense.

Traffickers have a market worth billions of dollars, and traffickers find it far too easy to collaborate online. We, on the other hand, have to work hard in order to collaborate – for example, the competition for grants in the non-profit world often dissuades organizations from working together. This creates an “anti-market” where information is scarce and people have a hard time finding places where they can help. But this is changing, as evidenced by the thousands of student groups raising awareness about human trafficking on campus and off and the success of consumer apps that target a consumer’s “slavery footprint“. Rather than spending their time trying to find some way to help, this next generation is able to spend their time actually helping.  I believe that technology can help us take this trend to the next level, by creating a “synthetic market” where information flows readily and people can easily get to the right places to plug in.

Toward this end, I believe a “Data Ecosystem” can provide the technical backbone organizations and activists need in order to collaborate – a place where all their systems can talk to each other, basically a common language for the movement. An emergency shelter should be able to send a file to law enforcement if a friend of one of their clients is in danger. A volunteer should be able to link to a website, describe their skill sets, and plug into an organization within the anti-trafficking movement. A local partnership of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should be able to link up their networks and analyze the local trafficking situation together.

Technology is really about relationships – it isn’t simply a program or a piece of hardware, but a means for people to interact with other people. The best way that the ecosystem works is by creating efficient collaboration spaces or “shared networks” for partnerships that already exist – like the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition– so that we can amplify and accelerate the good work and best ideas that are already happening. Then, we connect the networks, and from their conversation, we get a grassroots picture of what’s really going on and what we can all do to help. If we get all the really great tech people involved in the anti-trafficking movement in a room together, empowered by their leaders to build this shared space, I truly believe we can make all of this happen.

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