Recently, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah delivered an address at the TED annual conference where he noted that “… scientific and technological breakthroughs do more than address specific technical challenges; they inspire collective action by turning impossible challenges into solvable problems”.

In my remarks on “Turning Impossible Challenges into Solvable Problems” at the University of North Carolina’s Water Institute on October 5, 2011, I shared some of the elements of an approach which we are taking to turn impossible challenges into solvable problems, particularly those that relate to the water sector.

In addressing these challenges, we see three approaches as being central to this effort – focusing on policies, programs, and partnerships. These approaches deal with:

  • developing and implementing policies within the USG which will lead to significant global development  impact;
  • developing programs to support economic development which stress sustainability and program and  policy integration; and
  • creating partnerships to achieve breakthroughs in science and technology, as well as novel business or organizational models, operational or production processes.

Regarding breakthroughs, building on the USAID Forward emphasis on innovation, I emphasized USAID’s recent launch of WASH for Life with co-funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Over the next four years, this $17 million partnership will use USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) program to identify, test, and transition to scale evidence-based approaches for achieving cost-effective and sustained Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services in developing countries. Although projects addressing problems in any WASH area or any country may apply, WASH for Life is particularly interested in interventions that:  operate in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, India, Kenya, and Nigeria; address issues in the sanitation and hygiene sectors in particular; and target beneficiaries earning under $2 a day.

The successful implementation of USG development assistance policies, the emphasis on sustainability and program integration and the development of partnerships which effectively deliver assistance and those which lead to scientific and technological breakthroughs will play a critical role in meeting water supply, hygiene and sanitation needs. In so doing, these approaches will also contribute to increasing food productivity, adapting to climate change, and improving human health in a number of areas, directly or indirectly related to water borne disease. This will in turn significantly help the world move from impossible problems to solvable solutions.