USAID chief previews Humanitarian Assistance Grand Challenge

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green announces the Humanitarian Assistance Grand Challenge. Photo by: USAID Twitter

WASHINGTON — U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green announced Thursday that the agency’s next “Grand Challenge” — to be launched in early 2018 — will seek innovative solutions to address the world’s unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

In his opening remarks to Global Innovation Week, which USAID is hosting, Green offered a preview of some of the questions the agency hopes its Humanitarian Assistance Grand Challenge might help to solve.

“How can we better deliver medicine that needs to be refrigerated in tropical areas? How do we track and identify aid beneficiaries who lost all material forms of identification? How do we better track humanitarian assistance dollars and measure with precision our impact? How do we educate children who were born and raised in camps?” Green asked.

USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development initiative applies a venture capital funding model to source new “approaches, processes and solutions” to well-defined problems that the agency designates. USAID issues a call for submissions and selects a small number of applicants for funding, which it provides in stages for development, testing, and deployment. The goal is to crowdsource ideas and technologies from partners the agency would otherwise struggle to reach through more traditional procurement channels.

The Humanitarian Assistance Grand Challenge will be the agency’s 10th. Past Grand Challenge rounds — which the agency has frequently conducted in partnership with other donors — have focused on goals like improving the Ebola response, saving lives at birth, off-grid energy, and government accountability.

Next week USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, Wellcome Trust and other partners will host the 2017 Grand Challenges Meeting in Washington, D.C., where Bill Gates will deliver the keynote address.

“At the core of each Grand Challenge is our belief that when government works with the private sector and with innovative and entrepreneurial leaders, there's no limit to what it is that we can do. We can come up with better ideas, better solutions, better methods,” Green said on Thursday.

In an interview with Devex the USAID administrator previously described his interest in sourcing ideas from outside the agency’s typical array of implementing partners.

“I want to make sure that we are tapping into all the creativity, all the innovation that is out there in the community. And community I define very broadly — the business community, traditional development community, contractors, nonprofits, all of that. I want to make sure that we spur competition. I want to make sure that we are constantly looking at good ideas,” Green told Devex.

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.