USAID "Walking the Walk" on Innovation
March 14, 2011
Fellow, Global Health Policy Center
Reform abounds these days in terms of U.S. Development efforts. The launch of the Global Health Initiative, in concert with USAID’s revamped Evaluation Policy and PEPFAR’s “Smart Investments” campaign, promise to maximize the sustainable health impact achieved for every dollar invested. The key catch phrases common in all of these initiatives are efficiency, effectiveness and innovation.
The newly launched “Saving Lives at Birth: Grand Challenges for Development” program is an exciting laboratory in which efficient, effective and innovative ideas may be cultivated. Saving Lives at Birth is a partnership between USAID, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, The World Bank and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that expects to provide $50 million over five years in grants to individuals and organizations to develop technologies that are affordable, sustainable and scalable. Grants will provide seed money for new technologies and funds for transition to scale for existing integrated innovations that save the lives of pregnant women and newborns in rural, low resource settings. The partners expect to award $14 million in grants during the first round.
This approach is especially exciting because it is emblematic of a new and emerging approach to development that is rooted in science and technology and aims to broaden the scope of who can contribute to development solutions. By putting out a call to any and all innovators, development is pushing beyond the usual public sector bodies such as NIH and WHO, and large pharmaceutical companies, to tap into the creativity and innovation of new players less constrained by bureaucracy and politics. The hope is that moving through new channels will mean that technologies can be developed, tested and adopted in low resource, remote settings in a number of years rather than decades, as has been the case in the past. This initiative rewards public and private collaboration and also invites solutions from individuals and communities around the globe.
At the Saving Lives at Birth launch event on March 9, Secretary of State Clinton, Melinda Gates and representatives from each of the partners reminded us of game changing innovations that have transformed the health landscape and dramatically increased access to care and services for millions. Examples included the use of vouchers to cover skilled birth attendant fees, distribution of oral rehydration salts to mothers, inexpensive and simple newborn resuscitation devices and affordable treated bednets to prevent malaria. Each of these simple solutions save the lives of pregnant women and newborns in underserved communities everyday by putting knowledge and resources in the hands of the people who need them most.
In a time when USAID is proclaiming that they are going to actively change the way they do business to improve efficiencies and impacts, joining this partnership certainly proves that they are indeed “walking the walk”. This system has great potential if grants are awarded quickly, are managed well and are well documented and evaluated. Building on existing platforms, effectively sharing information and collaborating to avoid duplication of efforts will go a long way in ensuring that the technologies and approaches developed can indeed go to scale. Moving beyond a slew of pilot projects to actual roll out and scale-up is daunting and will require sustained support of these grantees. I sincerely hope that these challenge grants provide the incentive and inspiration necessary to fuel the next round of big ideas.
Grant applications are due April 29, 2011. For more information on The Saving Lives at Birth initiative, visit: http://www.savinglivesatbirth.net.