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Let’s scale proven solutions, wherever they’re needed
To achieve the SDGs by 2030, 21st-century global development agencies must take a truly “global” approach.
Dear Unlock Aid Community —
Last month, we invited you to participate in our global listening tour. Starting this month, we’ll visit cities around the world to ask communities, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, multinationals, diaspora community leaders, investors, and other change makers, “If we got to start over in global development, what would you do differently? How would we rebuild our public institutions to meet the scale of our shared 21st-century challenges?”
Today, we’re building on those questions to offer one new way for global development institutions to meet global challenges.
Every country — including the ones that provide the most global development resources — have a long way to go to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, like alleviating poverty, creating green jobs, and solving food insecurity. All countries need to see development and achieving the SDGs as a shared, global challenge.
To that end, global development agencies cannot operate in silo. They must embrace innovation wherever in the world it’s found, and then provide the resources to scale those proven ideas to the geographies where they’re needed most. For example:
When M-PESA launched in Kenya in 2007, it was the world’s first national-scale mobile financial solution, but quickly became a model that helped create the global fintech sector today. Serving more than 57 million customers and transacting more than $360 billion every year, M-PESA is an example of a leapfrog technology that was adopted rapidly and en masse, in part, because it was able to skip many of the traditional, intermediary steps that makes technology development harder to do in more saturated markets. M-PESA revolutionized financial inclusion for those who were traditionally left out.
NEPI began in the wake of the Liberian civil wars, when thousands of young men who had participated in the conflict had become unemployed, unskilled, or traumatized. By enrolling thousands of those men in a program that blended cognitive behavior therapy, private counseling, reintegration support, and cash transfers, NEPI’s model led to steep reductions in violence and other crime, increases in economic growth, and improved social and mental health outcomes. The City of Chicago recently began replicating NEPI’s model, reducing violent crime among enrolled participants by approximately 50 percent.
Zipline launched in Kigali, Rwanda in 2016 to deliver blood and other essential health commodities to last-mile communities via drone technology, cutting traditional delivery times from days to minutes, and reducing maternal mortality by 88 percent. After Zipline’s technology was first deployed, tested, and validated in Rwanda, it was then adopted by other African governments, including in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Cote d’Ivoire. Customers in countries like the United States and Japan have since started to use their technology, too. During the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, customers in North Carolina, Arkansas, and Utah used Zipline’s drone technology to deliver PPE and other health supplies to remote communities across those states. Today, Zipline is expanding its health use case in the US through partnerships with health systems, like Ohio Health and Michigan Medicine.
Imagine a world …
Solutions to many of our hardest, interconnected problems already exist, but we presently lack the global infrastructure and systems to scale and deploy proven solutions to new regions.
With a footprint in more than 100 countries, USAID and other US embassy offices are uniquely positioned to help accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs by spotting promising innovations developed in one geography that could be deployed in another. However, this shift would require a new focus and mandate for US agencies.
To start, the White House could create a list of domestic and international challenges that require innovation to solve — e.g. climate change and adaptation innovations — and task officers based in US embassies around the world with sourcing proven and promising solutions that could be replicated.
By creating an explicit call, we would take one step toward building the systems by which groundbreaking ideas from around the world can scale in new locations. For example:
mPedigree, based in Ghana, has developed software that has already been used by more than 250 million people across three continents to authenticate billions of products, including counterfeit medicines. Given growing concerns about the fentanyl and opioid crisis in the United States, the US Senate Appropriations Committee just passed a spending bill that would require the US State Department to determine ways to protect US citizens from counterfeit prescription medications. mPedigree could help the State Department tackle this problem with the global infrastructure and technology solutions it has already built.
Kubik, based in Kenya and Ethiopia, is an environmental-tech company building affordable housing by transforming hard-to-recycle plastics into low-carbon materials. Kubik’s products, which include bricks, columns, beams, and jambs, eliminate the need for cement and other high-emission products in construction. This could be deployed in cities all around the world, especially in cities that are struggling with rapid urbanization and skyrocketing housing prices.
Organizations like Drinkwell, based in Bangladesh, and Gravity Water, operating across the Asia-Pacific region, have pioneered new techniques to expand access to safe drinking water and sanitation and hygiene, including through water ATMs with water filtration technology and rainwater harvesting. Solutions like these could be deployed in places that lack potable water, especially in the United States where 46 million Americans are water insecure.
We can achieve the SDGs by 2030, but confronting the enormity of the challenges ahead will require major shifts in the way we deploy capital. Our public institutions also need to start to move at unprecedented speed. In many cases, the technology and know-how to solve the world’s hardest problems already exists; now we need to deploy and scale what we know works to the geographies where they’re needed the most.
We need a paradigm shift in our approach to global development and we need your help. If you haven’t already, please make sure you RSVP to participate in our global listening tour to propose what a new model for global development can look like.