USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Innovation

Developers for Development: The Evolution of the Food Security Open Data Challenge

Geeks, Coders, Hackers, Developers, Computer Scientists, Technologists- whichever term you choose, people with technical acumen have proven to be some of the most prolific volunteers for social good.  It is not hyperbole to state that on any given weekend, in nearly every major city around the world, volunteers can be found gathering together to create products that benefit education, security, economic, and other social interests. Participants cobble together the vision, team, the code, and the experts over 48 hours, and present themselves for judging by Sunday evening.  These gatherings are dubbed “hackathons,” “codeathons” or “codesprints” and they have found success: out of the Disrupt Hackathon, which is hosted by TechCrunch and connects developers and entrepreneurs, the Docracy team formed to make legal and business documents more free and accessible, and went on to raise $650,000 over the next year to expand its operations.  StartupWeekend, a hackathon targeting entrepreneurs, claims hundreds of new startups including Reddit, a widely popular user-generated news aggregator.  In 2010, the State Department and iHub launched the Apps4Africa challenge  to connect local developers and global mentors to local NGOs to learn and solve local problems.  The winner, iCow,  is a successful mobile-phone application that tracks cows’ hormone cycles to inform better breeding, milk production, and nutrition information to Kenyan dairy farmers.

Indian woman arranges a display of grains and seeds at Millet Fest 2012, in Hyderabad on March 24, 2012. The three day event aims to promote use and increase knowledge of the nutritional benefits of millet seeds when used as part of a daily diet. Photo Credit: AFP

If you’re not familiar with the hackathon model, you’re not alone.  Government engagement with the tech community, though expanding, is limited.  And though hackathons bring together widely diverse communities to contribute their time and expertise to solve problems, they are not a flawless solution.  Rare is the startup that can convene and be commercially viable in 48 hours.  To increase the impact of the products of these hackathons, and ensure that those volunteering their time are doing so wisely, we have to improve on the existing model.

Enter White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, and his bold concept for public sector improvement of the hackathon model to connect developers directly to the people who will ultimately use their product, and to incubate solutions to be attractive to investors.  Under his model, weekend sessions are stretched across at least ninety days and buttress the hackathon with brainstorming and planning session weeks prior and an incubation period of the successful products for weeks following.  He outlines this model as an endeavor of the White House’s “Open Data Initiative” and, following on the successful implementation at HHS, has taken it to various other agencies including the Department of Energy, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Education, and USAID. Through his leadership, each agency has taken up the mantle of instituting their own open data initiatives.

USAID is  building its first data initiative around food security, and I encourage anyone who is curious to get involved.  All backgrounds and interests are welcome; participants need not be an expert in food security nor in software, a willingness to contribute to the efforts of innovative solutions and commercially viable products is all that’s required.  Writers, designers, networkers, and creative thinkers from all walks are welcome.  As access to information increases globally, so does the potential for innovation and great ideas to be borne and fomented across borders.  USAID is convening a global community to engage more directly with those who are willing to volunteer their time and expertise to the cause of development, and who want to work together to “hack” new and creative solutions to long-standing development priorities.  Just yesterday, Secretary Clinton observed “Data not only measures progress, it inspires it.” At USAID we want to build and support the platform for those who are inspired to create and sustain lasting progress.

For more information and to participate, visit agrilinks.org/openagdata and contact OpenAgData@USAID.Gov

USAID and Partners Kick Off LAUNCH: Beyond Waste Forum in Pasadena

The intense aura of intelligence that permeates NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA seems to signal that it is the perfect place for USAID and our partners to kick off this week’s LAUNCH: Beyond Waste Forum.  It is an incredible privilege—and, to be honest, a great deal of fun—to be at LAUNCH with a world-class group of experts and innovators.  This impressive group that crosses many sectors and industry boundaries will spend the next three days focusing on breakthrough technologies and problems that address some of the world’s toughest waste problems.

USAID and our partners NASA, Nike, and the Department of State formed LAUNCH to showcase and support extremely high potential innovators addressing the world’s most critical sustainability challenges.  LAUNCH: Beyond Waste is our fourth LAUNCH program cycle (previous cycles focused on water, health, and energy).  After a rigorous application and vetting process, we selected nine innovators we believe will make an outsized impact on waste issues in both the developed and developing worlds.  Through LAUNCH, we will spend the next six months working with them to accelerate that impact.

Waste is unfortunately one of the most neglected issues in international development practice.  While many donors in our field have only a few programs worldwide dedicated to waste issues, the waste challenges developing world citizens, organizations, and governments face are daunting.  In most major developing world cities and countries, the vast majority of municipal solid waste streams are not formally processed, while ‘eWaste’, medical waste, and agricultural waste streams (among others) often go unaddressed as well.  At the same time, “untapped” waste streams represent enormous potential resources when waste-to-energy and “upcycling” or recycling methods are applied.

Many of our LAUNCH: Beyond Waste innovators are building thriving businesses and programs based on that very premise: waste is often a resource and an opportunity, not an unfortunate byproduct of modern life.  This impressive group of innovators includes, for example:

Attero Reycling: India’s leading provider of “end-to-end” electronic and electrical goods e-Waste management services—likely the only such full service company in the developing world.

re:char: A leading developer and provider of ‘biochar’ operating in Kenya and the United States.  Biochar is a carbon-negative charcoal that can be used as a charcoal substitute and as a powerful soil amendment, which boosts crop yields.

Sanergy: A provider of sanitation infrastructure for Nairobi, Kenya’s slums and of fertilizer and electricity from its byproducts.

You can see the full list of the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste innovators and descriptions of their innovations.

We are thrilled with the bright and diverse group of people who have joined the LAUNCH Council, which will advise the innovators.  During the Forum, the innovators will engage in three days of collaboration with the Council, a group representing the waste, business, investment, international development, policy, engineering, science, communications, and sustainability sectors.  We have assembled the Council to give individualized advice to the innovators and to form a network that can help accelerate their progress in the coming months. Check out profiles of the LAUNCH Council members.

Please follow the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste Forum this Friday and Saturday (July 20 and 21, beginning at 1 PM EDT/10 AM PDT) and participate right along with us.  The Twitter hashtag is #beyondwaste and portions of the Forum will be streamed live.  You can also view and participate in the live conversation about the innovations.

Visit LAUNCH to learn more.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (4/9/2012 – 4/13/2012)

April 9: Returning from a recent trip to Ethiopia, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah told Voice of America that assistance to the country’s health sector has saved thousands of children’s lives. “Because of those joint partnerships that we have had for years and years, last year, we now know, that partnership helped save 36,000 Ethiopian kids’ lives,” said Shah.

April 12: In an interview with NextGov, USAID’s Chief Innovation Officer, Maura O’Neill, discussed the role the White House’s new chief technology officers’ council will play. O’Neill also discussed USAID’s approach to technology and development. How do you get the interagency to not stifle innovations? We have a lot of the same issues in each of our agencies and we can talk about particularly smart approaches to them.”

 

Partnering to Harness the Potential of International Corporate Volunteerism

Christopher Jurgens is the Global Partnerships Division Director in USAID’s Office of Innovation and Development Alliances.

All too often, service and volunteerism are viewed as well-intentioned efforts with limited impact. However, international corporate volunteerism (ICV) programs have significant untapped potential within the development space—potential to both contribute to U.S. development assistance, and to support diplomacy efforts in emerging markets. ICV programs can serve as valuable tools in the formation and implementation of complex development programs worldwide.

It is with this potential and value in mind that I am excited to participate in the 3rd Annual International Corporate Volunteerism Conference. This two-day conference (April 11-12) will involve participants from more than 150 companies – from small businesses to Fortune 500s – NGOs, and government agencies, and highlight best practices and lessons learned from ICV initiatives. Sample topics include how development impact is measured; what has been achieved to date; and the impact ICV programs have on the private sector. I look forward to is a discussing the Center of Excellence for International Corporate Volunteerism (CEICV), a partnership between USAID, IBM, and CDC Development Solutions.

The CEICV is a two-year pilot program that brings together private sector and development professionals. By participating, private sector participants gain access to best practices and infrastructure for developing and running corporate pro-bono consulting programs. USAID Mission beneficiaries gain access to teams of talented individuals and technical assistance. Partners hope that the CEICV will establish a self-sustaining international corporate program that will serve as a resource to:

  1. Enhance USAID’s development efforts by leveraging the skills and expertise of corporate volunteers in the implementation of USAID projects in critical Agency sectors;
  2. Increase the number of participating companies and active skilled business volunteers and the impact and effectiveness of their contributions; and
  3. Track the development impact of ICV programs and create a proof of concept focused on best practices for mobilizing corporate volunteers to increase development impact.

Our partner IBM is a particularly active company in the ICV space. To date, the company has dispatched more than 1,200 of its top employees to over 100 engagements in nearly 20 countries as part of its Corporate Service Corps.  These highly skilled teams of IBM professionals implement projects to improve local economic conditions, support entrepreneurship, and improve transportation, education, health care, and disaster recovery.

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MAMA Bangladesh – Connecting Health Information and Services to Mothers Through Mobiles

Kirsten Gagnaire is the Global Partnership Director of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).

IDEA/Mobile Solutions is an office at USAID that champions the use of mobile technology for development issues. Mobile Solutions provides support to mobile technology initiatives implemented by USAID pillar bureaus, such as mAgriculture and mHealth. One of the most prominent mHealth initiatives, launched by Secretary Hillary Clinton on Mother’s Day last year, is the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).

MAMA is a Global Development Alliance founded by USAID and Johnson & Johnson, with support from the mHealth Alliance, United Nations Foundation and BabyCenter. In March, MAMA board representatives visited Bangladesh to meet with MAMA country partners and conduct field visits to meet pregnant women, new mothers and family members who have subscribed to the MAMA mobile phone service, which is called ‘Aponjon’ in Bangladesh. This blog post comes from MAMA Global Partnership Director, Kirsten Gagnaire, and is part of the “blog tour series” reporting on the site visits and experience in Bangladesh. Read how USAID is helping women connect to health services in the developing world.

In Bangladesh, as in so many low-income areas across the globe, pregnant women and new mothers don’t have access to timely, reliable and culturally relevant information about how to best care for themselves and their babies.  Although there has been some improvement over the past ten years, it remains a fact that death due to pregnancy, childbirth and infancy-related causes are high in Bangladesh. And these deaths are often preventable with basic knowledge and care.

A young mother in Bangladesh using a cell phone. Photo Credit: MAMA

The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) was created to provide new and expectant moms with vital stage-based information via mobile phones. Subscribers who register indicate their expected due date, or the birthday of their recently-born child, and receive weekly messages timed to the stage of pregnancy or the age of their newborn. MAMA’s first in-country program is an initiative catalyzed by USAID and local partner D.Net. Catalyzing the support of a public-private coalition in country, with strong support from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Health, MAMA Bangladesh has developed and piloted an mHealth service called Aponjon, the Bengali word for “trusted friend”. Aponjon works as a mobile-messaging based service, providing moms and the gatekeepers within their families (usually spouses, mothers, and mothers-in-law) with information about how to take care of themselves and their babies, and includes an entirely separate service for husbands that reinforces messages that their wives are receiving and includes information on how to best care for their loved ones during pregnancy and early childhood.

MAMA messages include information on self-care during and after pregnancy, as well as information on when to seek care and how to care for a newborn. MAMA Bangladesh recognizes the need for linking subscribers to local health services, and has  built strong relationships with local health providers.

“I can only visit my clients once each month,” one community health worker told us during a site visit. “But the mobile phone messages continue to provide information between visits; more information than I would be able to share during a single visit.”

The importance of the connection between information about health and information on where to seek assistance was highlighted during one of our site visits.  When asked what was the most important message they received, Shoma and Sale, new parents, beamed at their healthy baby and said that it was a message that discussed the signs of newborn respiratory illness.  They realized their baby was exhibiting the symptoms which required care, according to the message they received.  They were able to connect with their local clinic, where their baby was treated and recovered.

Messages to moms and their families are one of the first, and critically important, steps in educating people about their health, connecting them to care and changing behaviors. MAMA Bangladesh has registered 1,800 women in three districts thus far, and aims to launch nationwide later this year.

To learn more about MAMA, visit http://www.mobilemamaalliance.org/.

 

Understanding the Wants and Needs of Women Living Under $2 a Day

As development practitioners, do we adequately understand our target beneficiaries before programs are implemented?  Are we doing our ‘market research’ before investing resources, to best comprehend the wants and needs of those we intend to assist?  Yes, but only to some extent.  The development community has a variety of tools at its disposal, developed and tweaked over decades, to give us insight and analysis into the lives of our target audiences.  But rarely do they offer a deep, deep dive.

A woman on a phone in India. Photo Credit: GSMA

New research released today at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona offers a refreshing approach to understanding women who live at the base of the pyramid, often under $2/day.  The GSMA mWomen Program, whose overall goal is to reduce the mobile phone gender gap in the developing world by 50%, has spent much of the past twelve months carrying out quantitative and qualitative research of more than 2,500 women in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.

The findings illustrate the lives, struggles and aspirations of women who often represent the backbone of their families and communities, yet rarely are afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams.  The research, funded by USAID and AusAID, identifies the unique socio-economic and cultural factors that influence and shape women’s lives, framed in part by their attitudes towards mobile ownership. 

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Harnessing Science, Technology, and Innovation To Promote Global Development

Originally posted on the White House blog

Today at the White House, senior Administration officials announced a series of new initiatives to promote game-changing innovations to solve long-standing development challenges.  Answering President Obama’s call to harness science technology, and innovation to spark global development, the Administration announced initiatives from across the government to generate new development solutions.  Announcements include new partnerships with universities; greater use of scientific breakthroughs through expedited technology transfer of federally-funded inventions; a program to reward inventors who use their patented technologies to address humanitarian needs; and initiatives to leverage advances in Internet and communications technologies to provide new development tools.

In an increasingly globalized world, the Obama Administration recognizes that global development is vital to national security and is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative.  One of the cornerstones of our global development policy is a commitment to investments in game-changing innovations with the potential to solve long-standing development challenges in health, food security, environmental sustainability, and broad-based economic growth.  Innovation can play a key role in building a stable, inclusive global economy with new sources of prosperity, advancing democracy and human rights, and helping us to increase the ranks of prosperous, capable, and democratic states that can be our partners in the decades to come.

Administrator Raj Shah announced that USAID is launching a new partnership with universities and research institutes to define and solve large development challenges.  USAID also announced new commitments to increased utilization of electronic and mobile payments to save on costs and increase financial access; a new effort to make assistance to other governments in telecommunications development more efficient; a new “app store” for development to spur humanitarian apps and software; and new commitments to mobile education technology as part of USAID’s All Children Reading grand challenge for development.

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Open for Questions: Innovation for Global Development

Originally posted on the White House blog

On Wednesday, February 8 at 9am, the White House will host an event to highlight how the government and the private sector are harnessing science, technology, and innovation to promote global development. Speakers from the White House, U.S. Agency for International Development, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and the private sector will join participants from universities, industry, and nonprofits for a discussion of innovation and global development. Watch live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

Later in the day, at 11:00 a.m., Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development, Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director of the National Security Council and Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy & Senior Advisor for Science, Technology, and Innovation, National Economic Council will take your questions on the role of science, technology and innovation in global development.

  • What: Open for Questions: Innovation for Global Development
  • Who:Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development, Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director of the National Security Council and Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy & Senior Advisor for Science, Technology, and Innovation, National Economic Council
  • When: Wednesday, February 8 at 11:00 a.m. ET
  • Where: Watch live at WhiteHouse.gov/live and submit your questions via Facebook, Twitter using the hashtag #WHChat or our webform.

Erin Lindsay is Deputy Director of Online Engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House.

Crowd Sourcing Development Innovation in India

India has become synonymous with innovation.  Inexpensive mHealth applications.  The Tata Nano. Low cost eye surgery. These are just a handful of the frugal innovations that India has developed and is now exporting.  With a booming social enterprise sector, a number of the world’s leading academics, Nobel Prize winners and thinkers, a vibrant private sector, and world-class NGOs like Pratham, India has been dubbed the innovation hub for the West.

In light of this innovation boom, Administrator Raj Shah challenged us to think about how we could harness the enormous creativity and frugal innovation found in India, and how we could partner to find and scale high-impact development solutions that drive down the cost of development and get results faster—not just for India but for the rest of the developing world, and even here in the United States.   USAID has had great success in significantly reducing HIV transmission rates and was within reach of eradicating polio in India. How could we do more of that while thinking globally, not just locally?

We didn’t have to look further than Lalitesh Katragadda, who is an Indian citizen who earned his robotics PhD at Carnegie Mellon.  Lalitesh joined Google when it was a start-up, and then returned to India to both grow the engineering talent base and search for inexpensive ways to solve some of the world’s most troubling development challenges. With a group of volunteers he came up with a way to get the world to map its neighborhoods. The Pakistanis used the new Google Map Maker during the devastating floods last year to locate 800,000 people. They told Lalitesh that the maps helped them save an estimated 250,000 flood victims’ lives, all with a crowd sourcing tool. This is an inexpensive solution at scale. This is what is sorely needed.

Today USAID is announcing a partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI); one of the largest microfinance organizations in India, Basix; and an Indian venture operation, Infinity Innovation Fund. The focus is to source and scale development solutions being developed and tested in India that will benefit vulnerable populations across the country and the rest of the world.

The Millennium Alliance: An India-US Innovation Partnership for Global Development will raise $50 million in seed capital, grants, loans, guarantees, and technical support for base of the pyramid solutions. The Alliance will be modeled on USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures to deliver maximum development impact by focusing on cost-effective solutions, rigorous testing and evaluation, and transition to scale via public and private pathways. USAID has committed $7.5 million to help launch the partnership with the Indian businesses matching it.

We knew FICCI was the right partner when we saw on the Boardroom entry wall a picture of Mahatma Gandhi and quote from his FICCI address in 1927, which read, “The industry should regard themselves as trustees of the poor.” Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Secretary General of FICCI embodies that motto- smart business and caring about those currently left behind.

Together we are eager to create a new, transformational relationship with India that marries USAID’s continuing and sustained efforts to make American taxpayer dollars go further and India’s potential as a global innovation laboratory to lift up the world’s poor.

USAID and Partners Kick Off LAUNCH: Energy

There is something incredibly powerful about working alongside innovators and entrepreneurs who are on the brink of deploying products and technologies with the potential to solve longstanding development problems.  As USAID and our partners prepare to kick off the LAUNCH: Energy Forum this Friday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, we are eagerly awaiting that exact opportunity.

The LAUNCH experience is challenging and affirming all at once.  For many of us, it is a singular reminder of why we chose to work in international development or on global environmental sustainability issues: to do our own small part in solving humanity’s most critical problems.  In joining together to form LAUNCH, USAID, NASA, the U.S. Department of State, and Nike, Inc. declared our intention to work together toward that very goal.

As anyone who travels or works regularly in the developing world knows, access to clean, sustainable, and affordable sources of energy is one of the 21st century’s largest development challenges.  Even basic levels of access to power can make a substantial impact on the challenges faced by off-grid communities.  With basic access to energy, school children can study at home at night, health clinics can refrigerate vaccines, and consumers can charge the household appliances and devices that make daily life more productive and convenient.  Through LAUNCH, we will showcase and support over the next six months some of the most promising technologies and programs that take on important parts of this energy access challenge.  LAUNCH has convened a truly impressive group of energy innovators.  They include, for example:

  • A micro/mini-grid solution for underserved communities that utilizes modular battery storage technology, energy management intelligence, and a pre-payment model (“Gram Power”);
  • An economical fuel cell for developing country markets that allows battery charging in cooking pits or fires, offering an affordable way for off-grid consumers to charge cell phones and power household lighting (“Point Source Power”);
  • A rural refrigeration system for commercial cold-storage applications in off-grid and partially electrified areas of developing countries (“Promethean Power Systems”).

You can see the full list of the LAUNCH: Energy innovators and descriptions of their innovations.

We are equally excited about the bright and diverse group of people who have joined the LAUNCH Council, which will advise the innovators.  During the Forum, the innovators will engage in three days of collaboration with the Council, a world-class group representing the business, investment, international development, policy, engineering, science, communications, and sustainability sectors.  We have assembled the Council to give individualized advice to the innovators and to form a network that can help accelerate their progress in the coming months. Check out profiles of the LAUNCH Council members.

We know this weekend will be an invigorating experience for our partners, the innovators, and the Council members alike.  We look forward to both the intensive collaboration this weekend and to the subsequent work through our “LAUNCH Accelerator” of helping advance some of the world’s most promising energy innovations.

Please follow the LAUNCH: Energy Forum this Friday and Saturday (November 11 and 12) and participate right along with us.  Portions of the Forum will be viewable live from www.launch.org, where you can also learn more about LAUNCH.

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