DFAT innovation hub to empower partners

    The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will encourage innovation as a vehicle to change the way the Australian government delivers its aid programs by scaling up successful initiatives. Photo by: Boegh / CC BY-SA

    When Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop unveiled last week the latest details of the country’s “new aid paradigm,” one aspect she mentioned that will be significantly improved will be innovation, including the establishment within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of a AU$140 million ($131.7 million) Development Innovation Hub to pilot new approaches for “cutting-edge” development solutions.

    This hub, according to a DFAT fact sheet, will encourage innovation as a vehicle to ultimately change the way the government delivers its aid programs by scaling up successful initiatives.

    But what does this mean in practical terms and how will if affect Australian aid partners?

    According to two of DFAT’s top 10 private contractors, the hub may open opportunities for partners to be more active not only in the implementation of projects, but also in the planning and design phase.

    Jacqui de Lacy, general manager for international development at Abt JTA Australia, told Devex it’s about time the Australian government finally decided to institutionalize the importance of innovation in development work so partners can become more involved, as until now their engagement with the department had been — at best — a one-way street.

    “At the moment, [DFAT] would come out with all the decisions in-house about the kind of investments they are going to provide and they come with a detailed design and we would just respond to what they are asking for,” De Lacy explained. “There’s little opportunity [under] the current system for us to bring our ideas to DFAT.”

    With the new innovation hub, however, the Abt JTA senior official said contractors and other development partners will have the “opportunity to pitch the best ideas to DFAT [instead of] having a more passive role [of] responding to what they are asking if we think we have the capacity.”

    Mel Dunn, vice president for international development at URS Australia, echoed this sentiment and noted the hub is “conceptually terrific,” although he admitted to Devex that there are “still some details to be worked out,” including “how [the hub] will operate” and the criteria for the innovation that will come out of it.

    When we asked DFAT when more specifics — including the whole operational plan for the innovation hub — will be made public, a spokesperson just said the details will be available “in due course.”

    Does the innovation hub truly have the potential to generate enough new ideas to change the way Australia conducts its foreign aid programs? Please let us know by sending an email to news@devex.com or leaving a comment below.

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    About the author

    • Lean Alfred Santos

      Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.