2015 The Lab Year In Review

Accelerating Development Through Science, Technology, Innovation and Partnership

For more than 50 years, USAID and its partners have tackled many of the world’s most difficult development challenges. Seeking sustainable solutions, we have long invested in science, technology, and innovation to achieve bold progress with landmark initiatives, such as Feed the Future, Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the President’s Malaria Initiative, that have saved hundreds of millions of lives. Today, the global development landscape is facing unprecedented, accelerated change. Driven by technological breakthroughs, information, and connectivity, this change presents tremendous opportunity to help the one billion people who still live on less than $1.25 a day lift themselves out of poverty.

In 2010, former USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and USAID leaders recognized this opportunity and looked for ways to channel developments in science, technology, innovation, and transformative partnerships toward a new model of development. The USAID Office of Innovation and Development Alliances and the Office of Science and Technology were established to open up solutions to development issues to people anywhere, foster scientific inquiry, and embrace an environment of entrepreneurship and ingenuity. In April 2014, the two offices evolved into the U.S. Global Development Lab (the Lab).

The Lab casts a wide net to find ideas that disrupt traditional development solutions; uses hard evidence and quick iteration to develop those that are most promising; and works across the Agency and with implementing partners to mainstream proven solutions to do the work to bring an end to extreme poverty. In the Lab, we work across four areas — science, technology, innovation, and partnership — what we call STIP.

In 2014, we received over 3,700 applications and invested in 362 new solutions to food security, health, climate change, energy, and economic growth challenges that improved the lives of 13.7 million people. USAID’s six Grand Challenges for Development received 2,058 applications and funded 86 solutions — a third coming from developing countries. During this same period, Grand Challenges leveraged nearly 5:1 in funding from non-USAID sources, a cost-effective investment for the U.S. taxpayer. The Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge was launched last November with the USAID Global Health Bureau and the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Defense. In just two months, innovators from around the world submitted over 1,500 ideas to help front line healthcare workers provide better, more timely care to contain the devastating virus. One of the winning innovations, a personal protection suit that allows for greater wearer comfort and quicker, safer removal, was designed by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design and Jhpiego, a non-profit international health organization, with the help of a wedding dress seamstress.

To combat the global challenge of water scarcity, our Desal Prize challenged innovators throughout the world to create cost-effective, energy efficient, and environmentally sustainable desalination technologies that can provide potable water for humans as well as water that can be used for crops in developing countries. Last spring, five finalist teams competed for $200,000 in prize funds in head-to-head demonstrations at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo, N.M. The two winning teams, one from MIT and Jain Irrigation Systems and the other from the University of Texas at El Paso Center for Inland Desalination Systems, will be eligible to receive grant funds totaling $400,000 to implement pilot projects later this year with small-holder rural farmers. With recent reports of widespread drought and increasing water scarcity in the American Southwest and Great Plains, this competition may be as relevant to the United States as it will be to parts of the developing world.

Our Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) program received 1,659 applications and has invested in 22 promising technologies including Chlorine Dispensers, which provide safe water to three million people in East Africa. These easy to use dispensers, located at widely accessible water distribution points, will prevent 3.3 million cases of diarrhea and 3,200 child deaths — at just 2% of the traditional cost. Another DIV grantee, Off-Grid:Electric, successfully raised $16 million in equity financing and an additional $7 million from the International Finance Corporation and its partners earlier this year. Off-Grid:Electric is working with the government of Tanzania to bring affordable electricity to one million Tanzanian homes by 2017. And last fall, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, the Omidyar Network, along with USAID, committed $200 million to a new Global Innovation Fund modeled after our own DIV program.

Our Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) of seven universities and over 400 partners in academia, civil society, the private sector and government has leveraged $28.5 million from partners, placed 194 fellows in developing countries, evaluated 27 innovations, invested in 163 innovations, and made data and data-related tools available to over 200,000 users. One innovation supported by two of HESN’s Development Labs — Duke’s Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator and MIT’s International Development Innovation Network — is a simple $2 birth kit that contains six essential tools required to ensure safe and sterile conditions during childbirth. This for-profit social venture, Ayzh, is currently in its fourth year of distribution, and at half the price of comparable birth kits, it has reached over 120,000 mothers and infants in 11 countries. Their proposed growth has the potential to prevent deadly or debilitating infections in six million women over the next five years.

The Lab is building scientific and technical expertise in developing countries. Last year, our Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program provided grants to 68 local researchers in 23 countries, of whom approximately one-third are female. Since the beginning of the PEER program in 2011, PEER researchers have worked with and trained over 1,500 students and research assistants and 40 have secured follow-on funding to continue their transformational research.

The Lab has also led the effort to reap the cost savings and operational efficiency of electronic payments (e-payments) within USAID programs. USAID made e-payments the method of payment we direct our implementing partners to use wherever possible. Results demonstrate that this shift away from cash is already saving thousands of personnel hours that can be re-invested into development assistance, while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per program. In Bangladesh, maternal and child health care provider Dnet estimates they have saved 40,000 hours of staff time and $60,000 per year since switching from cash to mobile payments.

The Lab supports the Agency as it continues to build a broad array of partnerships through the Global Development Alliance and other partnering models. The Agency had more than 250 active partnerships in 2014 alone, with an estimated value of more than $3 billion in public and private funds. The Lab is the primary interlocutor for USAID’s relationship with Sweden and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). Last year, SIDA and USAID committed over $300 million to joint programs, and SIDA is a partner in three of our six Grand Challenges for Development.

In 2014, the Lab leveraged $1 in private funds for every taxpayer dollar spent. Under the Partnering to Accelerate Entrepreneurship (PACE) program, we leveraged over $48 million in six partnerships — including from impact investors, high net-worth individuals, and other donors — against a USAID investment of $8.7 million to support the growth and acceleration of early stage enterprises in developing countries. The Digital Development programs have mobilized over 50 partners, including Google, Facebook, MasterCard, and the Gates Foundation, to bring digital and financial access to the forefront of development, with a leverage ratio of approximately 4:1.

In our first year, the Lab has learned, iterated, grown, and changed. We are applying this knowledge to hone a Lab that can better serve USAID and transform and modernize the development industry. The United States, United Nations, and the World Bank have set an audacious target to end extreme poverty by 2030. We believe this is possible, but to make it happen, we need to change how we implement development. We need to bend the curve on development solutions by applying the best modern tools, approaches, and innovations to tackle the toughest and most intractable challenges around the world. I am proud to say the Lab is making significant progress towards achieving these goals.

The following report reflects our first year successes around the Lab’s core mission: increasing the use of science, technology, innovation, and partnership in USAID and throughout the development community in order to accelerate impact. By building a rigorous evidence base, learning from our mistakes and driving fast iterations, and designing for scale and sustainability, we are creating a new model of development in action.

Date 
Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - 9:45am

Last updated: November 15, 2016