USAID confirms — 'The Institute' is coming soon

U.S. Agency for International Development Rajiv Shah talks to students of Duke University about solutions to development challenges. Shah confirmed that USAID’s Office of Science and Technology and the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances will merge to spark “development breakthroughs” through new kinds of partnerships with universities, scientists, entrepreneurs and the private sector. Photo by: Chris Lam / Duke Universtiy / USAID / CC BY-NC

It’s finally official — in January, U.S. aid officials hope to roll out a new platform to build partnerships for science, technology and innovation.

The effort, which Devex first reported on in August, is seen as a “legacy item” for U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah and has been kept tightly sealed during the design and authorization process.

But last week, Shah and another top USAID official provided more details about what in initial agency discussions had been called “The Institute,” and now may go under the working title “Science and Technology Innovation Partnership” or “STIP agenda.”

The new initiative will be rolled out with “operational innovations” to make it easier for contractors to partner with the private sector, as well as a set of “prototypes” for testing new approaches and soliciting feedback from implementing partners, USAID Counselor Susan Reichle said at the 2013 CIDC Conference in Washington, D.C.

Shah confirmed that USAID’s Office of Science and Technology and the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances will merge to spark “development breakthroughs” through new kinds of partnerships with universities, scientists, entrepreneurs and the private sector.

“Over the course of the next few months we’ll be launching an integrated effort that brings together our innovation, science and technology platforms into one coherent business unit that has more resources, more flexibility and more capability to bring innovation to our work,” he explained, without specifying whether resources would be diverted from other agency departments to fund the new “business unit” or whether it would rely on the combined resources of its component parts.

Shah added the new platform will give USAID “the flexibility to enter into new kinds of agreements … and partnership efforts to take those innovations to scale.”

“I’m excited about this effort. I can’t go into too much detail just yet… But we’d like to work with you in the coming months as we prepare to launch that important structural part of USAID,” he said.

Implications for partners

Last week, the audience of development company leaders was eager to hear whether the agency would solicit feedback on the new platform and its mechanisms for procurement and partnership before formally rolling it out in January.

Some remarked USAID has a history of unilaterally announcing initiatives first and asking for feedback later, instead of involving partner organizations early on in the design stage.

Reichle offered a few more details on what kinds of specific mechanisms the new unit will provide for contractors to bring private sector partners on board in their programs.

“What you will see is a real focus on what we call ‘operational innovations.’ We were insistent on this.”

Reichle also stressed implementing partners will play a role in shaping those “operational innovations” to ensure the procurement, compliance, and partnership mechanisms for more science, technology and innovation programming will actually work for the organizations delivering services to USAID-served communities and countries.

“Our idea was that we were going to put out there some prototypes, some things for you all to respond to first and receive some input on that, which would then obviously open up the conversation. We still have a ways to go on this.”

Part of what needs to be determined — and which still remains unclear to those outside the design discussions — is what kind of Congressional authorization will be required to fulfil the agency’s plans and commit the necessary resources to make them work.

Reichle said USAID wants to hear from implementers questions like, “Is this going to take us far enough?” and what they would recommend that agency do if it’s possible to get Congress on board.

She urged development companies to look for the STIP agenda to start rolling out in “early January,” but did not clarify whether the new unit would go public at that time or there would be a period for testing and refining the “prototypes” and “operational mechanisms” prior to any formal launch event.

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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.