WASHINGTON, D.C.–On April 3, 2014, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officially launched the Global Development Lab, a new research initiative to end extreme global poverty by 2030.
USAID has invested $100 million into the program, which will execute research and develop solutions for global problems like food insecurity, malnutrition, child and maternal mortality, energy poverty, and inaccessibility to water. USAID’s Dr. Rajiv Shah refers to the new program as “DARPA for development.” For decades, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has sponsored high-risk and advanced military research. Like DARPA, the Global Development Lab will be testing potential solutions, brainstorming new project ideas, and enlisting the help of valuable partners.
As of now, USAID has partnered with over 30 universities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations in order to implement the project. Schools like Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, and the University of California at Berkeley will be involved in the lab’s future research efforts. USAID’s partner companies include Cisco, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Microsoft, Nike, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, and Walmart. Save the Children, the National Academy of Sciences, World Vision, the Smithsonian Institute, Global Impact Investing Network, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be helping to ensure the success of the Global Development Lab as well. Through these partnerships, USAID will gain not only a large network of experts but also more than $30 billion in independent investments.
In addition to pursuing partnerships with established institutions, corporations, and foundations, USAID plans to continue funding the Research and Innovation Fellowships Program, a rare opportunity that attracts the brightest and most experienced science and technology experts. This year, more than 60 young Americans will be given the chance to challenge themselves by participating in the unique fellowship program, which offers a variety of positions in 12 different countries. Participants may work in universities, research institutions, private sector corporations, or nonprofit organizations.
With the establishment of the Global Development Lab and the fellowship program, USAID is making a clear effort to focus on research. Although USAID initially supported research for global development (such as the Cholera Research Laboratory in Bangladesh), the agency was forced to downsize in the late 1990s after Congress reduced foreign aid.
As a result, USAID has attempted to promote global development in recent years simply by funding and aiding existing organizations. Rather than relying on traditional methods of support, USAID’s new program aims to funnel research efforts toward the development of innovative scientific and technological solutions. With this novel approach to solving the world’s biggest issues, USAID will soon be working with its partners to lead pilot studies and evaluate the results for potential real-life applications.
USAID believes that the results from the Global Development Lab may better the lives of 200 million people within the next five years. As USAID’s Lona Stoll remarks, the lab is “tapping into things that make America what it is” – our entrepreneurial mindset, our research expertise and capabilities, and above all, our strong commitment to helping the people around us.