To support global priorities, USAID doubles down on Silicon Valley ties

Bonnie Glick, deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Photo by: Paul Barendregt / GES

SAN FRANCISCO — Bonnie Glick, deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, is no stranger to Silicon Valley.

“But I haven’t always looked at it through the lens of development,” she told Devex last week following several days of meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As the agency’s private sector engagement strategy takes shape, Glick said technology will be a focus for her. It’s also the industry she is most familiar with: Prior to joining USAID, she spent 12 years with the information technology company IBM. A key message Glick has brought to the agency is how the private sector has a different mindset when it looks at the markets where USAID works.

 “We can’t ask the American taxpayers to fund all of the ideas and all of the problems that we’re trying to solve everywhere around the world.”

— Bonnie Glick, deputy administrator, USAID

“We’re the U.S. Agency for International Development and we talk about developing countries and aid recipients and beneficiaries,” she said. “But you talk to a company, and they talk about emerging market countries and customers and clients.”

By understanding this mindset, USAID can find ways to engage companies in partnerships that benefit their business, as well as the populations that USAID is trying to serve. And putting the work in that context takes away “some of the stigma of being an aid beneficiary,” she said.

USAID has experimented with a number of models to engage Silicon Valley over the years, including a tech sector liaison for its Global Development Lab, and the agency is eager to explore further partnerships with companies in the Bay Area.

The first stop on Glick’s California visit was eBay headquarters, where representatives shared with her the way their platform brings buyers and sellers together, and how this online global marketplace supports women’s economic empowerment. And at IBM’s research facility, Glick spoke with scientists who are leveraging technologies including big data and artificial intelligence to address global challenges that are relevant to some of USAID’s priorities — such as pandemic mapping.

Glick also visited tech giant Google as well as, its philanthropic arm, to discuss areas for collaboration on its” Next Billion Users” effort as well as translation and literacy and education programs.

USAID's private sector engagement policy takes shape

Late last year, USAID launched a new private sector engagement policy. Here's a look at what the agency's done so far as it works to implement it.

While on the West Coast, she met leaders from the corporate side and foundation side of both Visa and GAP to discuss opportunities for continued partnership with USAID. Visa and GAP are not thought of as tech companies in the same way that eBay, IBM, and Google are, but technology is central to their operations, from payments to supply chains, Glick said. 

And what all of these companies have in common is an interest in making their services accessible to people around the world, including in the countries where USAID is focused, Glick added.

“There’s never going to be enough money to handle all of the problems that we see at USAID,” she said. “We can’t ask the American taxpayers to fund all of the ideas and all of the problems that we’re trying to solve everywhere around the world.”

A big motivation for these meetings is to understand what these companies are doing in the communities in which they operate so the agency can find ways to collaborate, rather than duplicate efforts.

“We look at engaging with the private sector and finding ways to empower them to empower the future clients and customers they’re dealing with,” she said.

As Devex has reported, teams across USAID are developing private sector engagement plans, in line with the new private sector engagement strategy the agency launched last year. As USAID considers what partnerships to pursue in Silicon Valley, the agency will seek out opportunities that yield better development results. And the new “Private-Sector Engagement Evidence and Learning Plan” will inform USAID’s work not only to engage the private sector but also to measure the success of these efforts.

“When we think about what the future of development looks like, it relies on collaboration with the private sector,” Glick said.

When the private sector partners with the development community, there is shared interest, shared risk, and shared value, she explained: “We talk a lot about how our model of development is different from the Chinese approach to so-called development, and I think the model we have — which is enterprise-driven and focused on lifting lives and not predatory debt —  is a model in the long run that has legs and that is sustainable,” Glick said.

Technology supports the vision that Glick and USAID Administrator Mark Green have for helping countries accelerate their path to self-reliance, she told Devex.

“USAID can’t end the need for foreign assistance by doing our work all by ourselves in a vacuum — and the kind of inclusive growth we’re looking for can only be achieved when we work closely with the private sector,[a]” she 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.