U.S. Global Development Lab Launches to Develop and Scale Solutions to Global Challenges

Imagine a world in which diagnostics for diseases that are prevalent in developing countries are available at pennies per use, renewable off-grid energy services are affordable for households earning less than $2/day, and every family has enough healthy food to eat.  USAID is helping to turn these ideas into realities by launching the U.S. Global Development Lab. The Lab is a critical part of delivering on the President’s commitment to game-changing innovation in the first-ever Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development

The Lab’s creation is part of a strategic decision to emphasize innovation as one of the critical tools needed to end extreme poverty and achieve broad-based economic growth in light of a number of converging trends: 

  • Recognition that quality of life and economic improvements in developing countries over the last few decades can be traced in large part to the use of scientific advances such as improved agricultural seeds and practices, oral rehydration therapy, vaccines, and the cell phone.
  • Emphasis on leveraging U.S. core competencies.  America is a global leader in innovation and invests $453 billion in public and private research and development annually.  It also has 17 of the top 20 research universities, and world-class innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley and Cambridge, MA.
  • The information economy is changing the way innovation occurs and is increasingly enabling people in even the most remote parts of the world to use mobile communications and data to learn, co-create, and deploy solutions locally and globally.
  • The emergence of new pathways to scale innovations via for-profit or social business models that are made possible by a surge in private sector investment in developing countries.  These pathways are critical since they exceed the level and reach of official assistance by the U.S. Government.

The U.S. Global Development Lab puts tools in place to create and scale solutions to global challenges in partnership with public and private innovators around the world, USAID Missions, and interagency colleagues.  The Lab has Centers that will focus on Data Analysis and Research (problem definition), Development Innovation (ideas), and Global Solutions (scale).  It will also have teams dedicated to private sector and Mission partnerships, and evaluation and impact. 

The Lab brings together a number of existing programs from across the innovation pipeline: Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), the Higher Education Solutions Network, Grand Challenges for Development, Development Innovation Ventures, Mobile Solutions, and Global Development Alliances.

We believe that the U.S. Global Development Lab can help lead the transformation of the U.S. development enterprise and strengthen critical initiatives including Power Africa, Feed the Future and Global Health by increasing USAID’s ability to:

  • Invest in breakthrough technologies;
  • Scale what works;
  • Attract scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to work at USAID, and harness the growing interest of young people in development;
  • Leverage America’s $453 billion investment in public and private R&D – which can often have significant benefits for the developing world;
  • Effectively partner with governments, the private sector, researchers, investors, and civil society – at home and abroad; and
  • Excel at using new approaches to solve hard development problems, including Grand Challenges, incentive prizes, and other “pull” mechanisms, crowdsourcing, impact investing in inclusive businesses, managing a “pipeline” of innovations, user-centered design, and the formation of global “communities of practice.”

Click here to read more about how the U.S. Global Development Lab is using science, technology, and innovation to help end extreme poverty.

Gayle Smith is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of National Security Council and Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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