Brian Atwood to USAID: More 'development diplomacy' needed

Former USAID Administrator Brian Atwood. Photo by: Personal collection

A former U.S. aid chief applauded the ideas behind the new Global Development Lab, but also has some advice for the current Administrator Rajiv Shah.

Brian Atwood’s challenge to Shah and the team running the lab is to look beyond the U.S. Agency for International Development to amplify new insights into using science, technology, innovation and partnerships to eradicate extreme poverty.

“The question becomes: Is this just designed to help USAID achieve its mission or is it going to be shared with partner countries and with other donors?” Atwood, the agency’s chief from 1993 to 1999, said in a conversation with Devex. “I’d like to see more of it shared.”

While USAID has a long history of engaging U.S. society and academia, it is now doing so more strategically, he suggested.

Under Shah’s leadership, the agency is “once again tapping into that source of knowledge more effectively than it has in many years,” Atwood said, adding that the current aid chief deserves a lot of credit.

And as USAID continues to innovate, it’s important that the agency shows its leadership in the broader global development community, through fora such as the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation and the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, he noted.

“I wish the administrator would spend more time on development diplomacy,” Atwood said, “but he’s got his hands full with a lot of other things too.”

The U.S. Global Development Lab, launched earlier this month, merged USAID’s Office of Science and Technology with the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances. The initiative is seen as a legacy project for Shah, only 37 when he was appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the agency in 2010.

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About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.