Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID
On a visit to Rhode Island last month, I toured a factory called Edesia, where fifty employees manufacture a high-energy peanut paste to feed millions of starving children around the world. What is remarkable is that nutrient-packed meal did not exist ten years ago. It is the result of a decade of research backed by USAID to elevate the science behind creating foods that can restore severely malnourished children to health.
America has always led the world in advancing innovation to deliver unprecedented legacies for humanity. Across our proud history, it is when we harness American science and entrepreneurship that we achieve the greatest leaps in social and economic development. For example, the Green Revolution pulled millions from starvation thanks to high-yield varieties of rice and oral rehydration solutions saved millions of children.
Americans can be proud of USAID’s history of embracing and then advancing science, technology, and innovation to create new solutions for age-old challenges. Today, we are building on this legacy with a renewed sense of focus and energy around the world.
In the last year, twenty USAID missions (see box) have stepped forward to work hand-in-hand with university and private sector partners to harness science, technology, innovation, and partnerships to advance development goals. Imagine them as field labs where we will demonstrate the real impact of new, cost-effective innovations. That means working closely with local communities to invent, test, and apply groundbreaking ideas to help end extreme poverty.
This is a real challenge. But it is achievable if we continue to reach out to the brightest minds on the planet to generate solutions to challenges like providing vitamin-rich food to children in crisis and producing affordable, renewable, off-grid energy.
Through Development Innovation Ventures, for example, we’re investing in a team of young graduates who started a company called EGG-Energy to provide families with rechargeable batteries they can rent to power their homes for five nights at a time. In Tanzania, where 90 percent of people lack access to electricity—but 80 percent live within 5 kilometers of the power grid – this could help a generation of children grow up with light.
Through mobile money platforms like the Better than Cash Alliance, we can accelerate financial inclusion for the 1.8 billion people with access to a phone but not a bank.
Through Global Development Alliances, we’re leveraging private sector resources and expertise to help diasporan entrepreneurs in the U.S. grow their businesses. One such company, Sproxil, developed a prescription medication verification system using a scratch card on each pack of medication revealing a numerical code. By texting the code to a toll-free phone number, you can verify whether the drug is genuine or possibly fake. Today, thanks in part to a seed grant that Sproxil won through the USAID-supported African Diaspora Marketplace, the company has introduced its products in five countries where it reaches over one million consumers.
Our Grand Challenges for Development offer innovators opportunities to apply their scientific and technological expertise to clearly defined development challenges. In the last three years, we’ve launched five challenges, and we have already identified many promising innovations, including the Pratt Pouch, which won our Saving Lives at Birth Grand Challenge. Designed by students at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, this low-cost foil pouch – similar to a ketchup packet – remains stable without refrigeration and allows mothers who give birth at home or far from a clinic to give their newborns medication to prevent HIV within the critical 48 hour window after birth.
We know that talent is everywhere, while opportunity is not. That is why our Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) is helping to level the playing field for scientists in developing countries. PEER is providing funding and mentoring support to developing country scientists working side-by-side with U.S. researchers who are funded by U.S. research agencies. Together, these scientists are addressing a wide range of development-related topics, including health, food security, climate change, water, biodiversity, disaster mitigation, and renewable energy.
These are exciting times at USAID, and I’ve seen first-hand that the enthusiasm is contagious – from university halls to board rooms to research labs. Our challenge is to harness this wealth of energy and excitement to build a pathway out of poverty for millions of people around the world.
The 20 USAID Missions harnessing science, technology, innovation, and partnerships to advance development goals are:
||So. Africa Regional