In an effort to generate new ideas that will help make development effective, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Global Development Lab has rolled out the Development Innovation Ventures program.
“It is a rolling system whereby anyone, on any subject from anywhere in the world at any time can submit a good idea,” said Executive Director of the Global Development Lab Bureau, Harry Bader:
“Then the lab will work with them. It is an evidence based process where it is paid for performance at certain milestones, as well as capacity building and building up a nontraditional partner so that they are an equal contributor to the development in their own country or other countries.”
Through the Development Innovation Ventures program, USAID is employing the private sector to develop effective solutions. Take, for example, Fenix International, said Director Bader:
“Fenix will go out and they'll put a solar array on an individual person's home that can supply a certain amount electricity over time during the course of a day. And if that person is able to pay that day, they …. can use their flip phone to let the base know that they've just deposited, let's say, 33 cents for that day's electricity usage. And then through their headquarters, they can contact a satellite where they can then bring down the switch that turns on the solar array. …. That is an amazing way to expand the use and access to electricity when you are off the grid.”
In need of funds to scale up their operation, Phenix requested an investment from USAID. USAID came up with a grant of under one million dollars. Fenix,[now known as Engie Energy Access,] used that money to expand, invest even more money and scale up its operations.
“And so we've created a model to solve a problem that helps corporate shareholders make money delivering a service that is so central -- electricity and lights -- that can help eradicate illiteracy, because you can study, that remediates some of the issues with agricultural production and hunger and that goes towards economic growth. Because one of the key aspects of eliminating extreme poverty is getting someone connected to the global digital infrastructure,” said Director Bader. “And this is something that can happen as a result of the model pioneered by Fenix, but which was funded in part at a critical moment by USAID’s Global Development lab.”