USAID’s Maura O’Neill on ‘mashing economists and venture capitalists’

    Maura O'Neill, chief innovation officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

    The world’s largest bilateral donor has been on a mission lately to find new ways to do development business. As the U.S. Agency for International Development’s chief innovation officer, Maura O’Neill is central to this effort. Read her exclusive guest opinion on innovative financing for development, or check out this excerpt:

    A few miles outside of Busia in Western Kenya, Carol Nekesa brings us out to a small village that is enjoying a regular supply of clean water for the first time. Next to the stream where the villagers regularly fill up their containers of water, a chlorine dispenser has been installed.

    For years, we have known that adding a little bit of chlorine to water can kill the bacteria that make people sick. And getting sick from bad water can too often turn fatal for people already ravaged by disease.

    But until recently, only 10 percent of Kenyan families have been using chlorine. Why was that and how could that change? Carol, a Kenyan from Busia, was part of a team that was pioneering not just a particular solution, but a systematic method for creating more cost-effective solutions again and again.

    As the OECD Development Assistance Committee holds the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, at the end of this month, we all seek better answers to “what works” in the fight against poverty. How can we uncover what people really will use to lift themselves out of extreme poverty and debilitating disease instead of what others think they need? How do we source and deploy solutions faster and cheaper? And how do we discover innovative ways to finance them?

    Read Maura O’Neill’s full op-ed, brought to you by Devex in partnership with the United Nations Foundation.

    About the author

    • Maura oneill

      Maura O'Neill

      Maura O’Neill is the former chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, where she had responsibility for inspiring and leading breakthroughs innovations in foreign assistance and development worldwide. In addition, she co-led USAID Forward, the agency's major reform initiative as well as created ground-breaking public-private partnerships in supply chain sourcing, mobile money, gender equity, entrepreneurship and new models for sourcing and scaling development interventions. She served on the White House Innovation Cohort assisting the Obama administration in innovation across federal government. O’Neill has started four companies in the fields of electricity efficiency, customer info systems and billing, e-commerce and digital education.