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?”

Across USAID we are eager to source solutions for development. We’d like to build on what students, faculty and staff in higher education have already done to focus attention, research, and implementation in diverse development-related fields, including design, engineering, and impact assessment. We are inspired by what we are seeing from students around the world, from Jessica Matthews and three friends at Harvard  who created the Soccket, a soccer ball that, when kicked, creates enough energy to power a light, to Julia Songok and her team at Moi University of Health in Nairobi who entered USAID’s Savings Lives at Birth Grand Challenge for Development with a concept for a Mother Baby Health Network, to enable community members to use their mobile phones to support new mothers, with the potential to save lives by 50%.

Our new Development Innovation Ventures initiative is investing in numerous game changing innovations pioneered on university campuses – from a sustainable sanitation solution developed by MBA students in an MIT class that is now an award-winning, for-profit social enterprise, to a successful election monitoring innovation tested in Afghanistan by UCSD PhD students , to an inexpensive innovation developed by Georgetown University professors that slashes road traffic accidents to Nairobi at a very low cost.

We are pushing ourselves as an institution to continue to look to leverage the ingenuity on campuses to find solutions. Historically USAID and universities have a lot in common . Both are decentralized organizations with a lot of very competent and independent people who are unbelievably devoted to their jobs. We’re pushing ourselves to be better and get better results.  We’re asking universities to push themselves as well.

Maura O’Neill is Chief Innovation Officer at USAID and  Dr. Alex Dehgan is the Science and Technology Adviser to the Administrator.