BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

April 13, 2014

A new Lab to harness the power of innovation

Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer
PATH

In this guest post, Heather Ignatius—senior policy and advocacy officer at PATH—writes about the new Global Development Lab at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Lab was formally launched at an event in New York City earlier this month by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a briefing on the new USAID Global Development Lab. The Lab—as it’s now referred to—aims to invent, test, and apply dramatically more cost efficient and impactful solutions to men, women, and children so they can lift themselves out of extreme poverty. It will collaborate with many stakeholders—including entrepreneurs, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), universities, and science and research institutions—to incorporate science, technology, innovation, and partnerships as a means to solve development challenges and improve the lives of millions of people in a short time span. The launch of the Lab brings the tremendous science, technology, and innovation credentials America has to offer to the practice of development. This effort will embed the principles of partnership and innovation into USAID’s DNA, allowing the agency to become a cutting-edge leader in development.

The Lab aims to invent, test, and apply dramatically more cost efficient and impactful solutions to men, women, and children so they can lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki
The Lab aims to invent, test, and apply dramatically more cost efficient and impactful solutions to men, women, and children so they can lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

The Lab will bring together a diverse set of partners to “discover, incubate, and scale breakthrough development innovations” in many of the sectors USAID works in, including health. There are eight stated areas of focus for the Lab: Food Security and Nutrition; Modernizing Food Assistance; Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths; Energy Access; Water Solutions; Child Literacy; Financial Inclusion; Rights, Participation and Accountability; and Humanitarian Response. Some of the agency’s key research programs, including the PEER Health Program and the Development Innovation Ventures initiative, will be housed within the Lab.

It is encouraging to hear that health will be one of the issues areas the Lab takes up, and many of the innovations highlighted by the Lab are in the health arena—including products developed through USAID’s successful Saving Lives at Birth grand challenge. However, it should be noted that the majority of USAID’s investments in global health research and development (R&D) currently sit outside the Lab’s structure.

As it moves from concept into operations, it will be important for USAID to ensure that the Lab is synergistic with the agency’s other global health R&D efforts. It will also be important to maintain investment for innovations that sit outside the Lab. As the bedrock of many global health successes, R&D is critical to developing the next generation of health tools that can prevent, treat, and one day halt existing and emerging global health threats. For more than 25 years, PATH has worked with USAID to identify global health needs and adapt, design, develop, and advance appropriate and affordable health technology solutions. By serving as the bridging agent between the public and private sectors, PATH has helped advance more than 80 technologies tailored to low-resources settings with more than 100 private-sector collaborators that have matched federal dollars two to one.

At the Lab’s launch, USAID’s leaders issued an open invitation to partners to help shape the Lab’s formation. We look forward to working with USAID to realize the full potential of the Lab to accelerate innovation for health. It will not be possible to meet tomorrow’s development challenges without innovation. New and effective health solutions must be part of that equation.

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