Former chief innovation officer at USAID has 3 asks for Congress

Ann Mei Chang, former head of innovation at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Photo by: ITU / CC BY-NC

Ann Mei Chang, former head of innovation at the U.S. Agency for International Development, has three recommendations for members of Congress to maximize the potential of innovation in U.S. foreign assistance.

She asked them to authorize a chief innovation officer and a chief digital officer at each U.S. development agency, to direct a pool of earmarked funds for research and development, and to shift toward measurable results versus predefined activities.

“Focus on what you want accomplished rather than how it’s accomplished. This will unleash the ingenuity of the talented staff to get the job done, and more,” she said Friday at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on innovation in development policy.

Chang also urged the committee to ask that a small percentage of all USAID programs be set aside for innovation.

Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, who led the hearing, asked Chang how to build on the work of the U.S. Global Development Lab, which piloted, developed, and scaled development innovations. It was dissolved last year as part of USAID’s reorganization and is now part of the Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub within the Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation.

Why it matters: Castro — who chairs the subcommittee on international development, international organizations, and global corporate social impact — is among the Congressional leaders seeking input on how innovation can help U.S. taxpayer dollars go further on development issues.

“The work of the lab proved that we can innovate and we can change how we do development, increasing the reach and effectiveness of our foreign assistance programs,” he said.

What’s next: Castro said the testimony from Chang — who was joined by Alix Zwane, CEO at the Global Innovation Fund, and Ben Leo, CEO and co-founder of Fraym — will guide the subcommittee’s work.

“What we need is to continue prioritizing innovation — investing in the capabilities, authorities, and leadership at USAID to develop new ideas and to support their widespread adoption,” Castro said.

About the author

  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Catherine also works for the Solutions Journalism Network, a non profit that trains and connects reporters to cover responses to problems.