USAID Engages Universities in Development Solutions

By Kathryn McConnell

Staff Writer

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has created a network of seven leading U.S. and international universities to develop innovative solutions to global development challenges.

The university partnerships will tap research faculty and students to catalyze the development and application of new science, technology and engineering approaches to global development. The partnerships will promote entrepreneurship to sustain these approaches and harness the enthusiasm of students for development, USAID said in a November 9 press release.

The initial seven universities participating in the network include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley, which together are creating a new discipline in development science and engineering. Michigan State University will study trends like population growth and climate change. Texas A&M University will focus on improving agricultural productivity, and the College of William & Mary will use data and analytics to improve decisionmaking in development. Makerere University in Uganda will develop online courses to help people learn about transparency, accountability, justice and equality. Duke University is the seventh university in the network.

Each university will establish what USAID calls development labs to work with the agency’s field experts and Washington staff to apply science and technology to solve problems in such key areas as global health, food security and chronic conflict.

“Through this network of development labs, we will recapture the legacy of science, technology and innovation as core drivers of development, as well as inspire and support the next generation of development leaders,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said November 8 at the State Department.

USAID has committed up to $130 million for the network and labs over the next five years. This amount will be matched by commitments from universities and their partners, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

The development labs will establish technology hubs across geographic regions to advance research, test new technologies, apply new solutions to global development problems and scale up these new technologies.

The labs also will engage a broader global community. Currently, in addition to the seven lead universities, the network includes nearly 100 university partners in the United States and other countries that join in funding the network. Plans are for the network to become sustainable, capable of overcoming barriers and leveraging the ability of universities to operate effectively, USAID said.

“Our dream would be that this would be a global network, and that development labs would be working around the world, all networked and creating very positive outcomes for millions and millions of people,” Clinton said.

She said the United States also has new partnerships in the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health that connect U.S. scientists with their counterparts around the world. And U.S. science fellowships bring researchers, engineers and physicians to work with USAID, she added.

“The USAID Higher Education Solutions Network will promote excellent research at home while helping partners around the world tackle long-standing development challenges,” said John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Whether building local resilience to development challenges, transforming economic and political systems, or inventing ways to improve quality of life, the Higher Education Solutions Network will do development differently, USAID said.

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