Making innovation a “more central” priority at USAID
Yesterday, Senator Cory Booker and Congressman Joaquin Castro sent a letter to Administrator Power to call on her to prioritize innovation at USAID.
Dear Unlock Aid community,
Did you see this? Yesterday, Senator Cory Booker and Congressman Joaquin Castro sent a letter to USAID Administrator Samantha Power to call on her to make innovation a “more central part of Agency operations.” They wrote:
“We believe the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has a unique opportunity to boost innovation and bring new stakeholders to the table in order to help address many of the world’s biggest challenges related to international development…
We applaud USAID’s efforts to incorporate new, more innovative, and evidence-based solutions through initiatives like the Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) unit, which delivers a $17 social return for every $1 invested. DIV has already contributed to the development of innovative solutions for low-resourced settings in many different fields, including renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and health technology…
America has a storied history of promoting innovation, but if we are to solve some of the biggest challenges of our time, we must do more to catalyze research and development, foster new partnerships with accountable and innovative non-traditional partners, and improve evidence-based contracting…
We look forward to hearing from you regarding how USAID plans to make innovation a more central part of Agency operations. We additionally urge you to include stronger support for DIV and other innovation programs in future budget requests to Congress, including for Fiscal Year 2024…”
One year ago, we founded Unlock Aid out of a deep belief in the power and potential of our public institutions to do hard things. Last year, NASA put a telescope into space to help us see millennia into the past. Public institutions gave us Operation Warp Speed, which led to the development of three Covid-19 vaccines in less than a year.
So we were thrilled to see Senator Booker and Congressman Castro call on Administrator Power to make innovation “a more central part” of the way that USAID operates. USAID can lead the way in catalyzing the kind of innovation the world needs to confront the effects of interconnected, global challenges like climate change and a growing food crisis. This Summer, we shared with USAID three proposals it can adopt today to accelerate innovation and increase impact.
Senator Booker and Congressman Castro have championed the call for innovation at USAID, but they’re not alone. This year, we’ve seen a growing chorus of Members of Congress call on the agency to change business as usual. Last month, Unlock Aid moderated a discussion with House Foreign Affairs Committee members Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan and Congressman Dean Phillips, co-chairs of the Congressional Stakeholder Capitalism Caucus. This forum was another example of a discussion focused on the things that USAID could do to drive impact and innovate, including by working more closely with the private sector.
Earlier this year, we also saw many Members of Congress take the mic during Congressional hearings to call on USAID to do more to prioritize innovation. In House and Senate spending bills, lawmakers proposed a significant funding increase for USAID’s DIV unit, by 33% in the House and 50% in the Senate. Lawmakers also called on USAID to more rapidly diversify the partners the agency works with. Last year, more than 50 percent of the value of all of USAID’s contracts went to just ten government contractors. This kind of consolidation in any industry is a problem. But in the case of global development, it means we’re stifling innovation when we need it the most, especially to fight an issue as existential as climate change.
With a global footprint that spans more than 100 countries, USAID is uniquely positioned not just to catalyze and promote breakthrough innovations that originate in the United States, but to source and scale proven solutions from the innovators who are indigenous to the countries that USAID supports. The agency is also led by Samantha Power, USAID’s highest-ever profile administrator. If there was ever a time to dream big about the impact that USAID could have on issues ranging from climate change to the food crisis, that time is now.
Senator Booker, Congressman Castro, and other leaders in Congress continue to remind us that America can show global leadership through innovation – and that agencies like USAID need to play a key role. We look forward to seeing how USAID responds to their calls to make innovation a “more central part” of the way the agency does business. The world is counting on it.
The Unlock Aid Coalition