USAID’s ‘multidisciplinary’ approach to development

The U.S. Agency for International Development launched on Nov. 9 the Higher Education Solutions Network, a new partnership that aims to tap universities in advancing USAID’s development mission. Photo by: velkr0

The U.S. Agency for International Development launched on Nov. 9 the Higher Education Solutions Network, a new partnership that aims to tap universities in advancing USAID’s development mission.

This partnership builds on a growing trend within the development community of engaging the academe in providing solutions to global challenges. Alex Dehgan, science and technology adviser to the USAID administrator and head of the Office of Science and Technology, explained to Devex how HESN is different from the other projects.

“We wanted this to look like nothing that’s ever been done before,” Dehgan said. “This is focused on impact and being able to use innovation in development and decreasing the cost of what we do.” He also outlined three ways HESN improves efficacy and advances USAID’s development mission:

  • Improve access to data and analytics for development to better understand and characterize the problems and identify more efficient solutions.

  • Come up with ways of evaluating technology, not only the performance characteristics but also the context in which it is used.

  • Form incubators for new science and technology-based approaches that will bring scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, anthropologists and social scientists together to take a multidisciplinary approach to development, which is “fundamentally, at the end of the day, a multidisciplinary problem.”

After 10 months of processing 500 applications from 33 countries, USAID selected seven HESN partners, namely:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • University of California – Berkeley

  • Michigan State University

  • Duke University

  • Texas A&M University

  • The College of William & Mary

  • Makerere University in Uganda

USAID will provide an initial $26 million funding for the universities to help each of them set up a development lab. These labs will then set up technology hubs and knowledge centers in different countries, where development data will be gathered and processed.

The partnership has a five-year grant cap of $130 million, although this is subject to availability of funds. The universities and their partners have also committed to provide $6.60 for every $10 from USAID.

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About the author

  • Adrienne Valdez

    Adrienne Valdez is a former staff writer for Devex, covering breaking international development news. Before joining Devex, Adrienne worked as a news correspondent for a public-sector modernization publication.