USAID relaunches Development Innovation Ventures program

The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, headquarters of the U.S. Agency for International Development, in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Antoine 49 / CC BY-NC-ND

WASHINGTON — The United States Agency for International Development’s Development Innovation Ventures, a program that provides grants to test and scale innovations, will once again accept applications after being suspended for more than a year.

Program applications were suspended in late July 2017 due to “forecasted funding decreases and our ongoing review of several high potential applications that we had in the pipeline,” said David Ferguson, the director of the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Center for Development Innovation.

USAID suspends new applications for DIV innovation program

Development Innovation Ventures focuses on supporting entrepreneurs with “breakthrough solutions.” It stopped accepting applications at the end of July.

“The DIV program is really important for USAID because of its openness to ideas from anywhere, anytime,” he said, adding that he was thrilled to announce the program’s resumption.

DIV will begin accepting applications on Sept. 13 and, as before, applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Ferguson doesn’t expect the program to be paused again any time soon, he told Devex.

“We’ve worked with our budget office and Congress to come to an arrangement where we have confidence we have continued funding to run DIV into the foreseeable future,” he said.

The DIV program will provide tiered grant funds from $50,000 to $5 million “to test new ideas, advance proven solutions that demonstrate the three legs of the stool [as] we call it: Rigorous evidence of impact, cost effectiveness, a pathway to scale” Ferguson said.

Starting with a budget of $23 million, the DIV program may also try to leverage funding from other parts of USAID and external partners, with the number of grants determined by applicants’ needs.

While it hasn’t accepted new applications DIV has continued operating, with more than 60 active grants and 9 new awards to projects that had been in the pipeline. That time with no new applications also gave the program an opportunity to make some changes that they hope will speed the application and award process and streamline the grants, he said.

Among the changes are new evidence grants of up to $1.5 million to support research and evaluation to help generate evidence; a new online platform that aims to streamline the application, review, and reporting processes for the grants; and a renewed emphasis on acceleration services helping grantees bolster skills alongside the financing.

While there have been some questions about the future of the Global Development Lab, DIV remains a part of the Lab’s Center for Development Innovations. And as USAID continues its “transformation,” or reorganization, there have been conversations about the program, said Alexis Bonnell, division chief of applied innovation and acceleration at the Lab. “DIV and the pursuit of open innovation is a hallmark of how USAID will continue to operate in the new vision,” she said.

DIV also aims to be more integrated with USAID’s operations, and Bonnell has spent time educating people in different parts of the agency — from those who work with faith-based organizations, to gender specialists or youth specialists — about DIV and how they could make use of it in the work they are doing.

“It provides a unique opportunity when someone in a mission sees something that’s really promising and may not necessarily be in line with something that they can action immediately. The ability for them to be able to refer it to DIV, the ability for that idea to be heard and taken seriously is something really exciting for us,” she said.

“We really do want them to feel the same sense of ownership of this amazing tool as we do.”

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is a Senior Reporter at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.