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USAID hopes to boost innovation in development with new lab | 

Former Sec State Clinton at the USAID Innovation Lab launch.
Former Sec State Clinton at the USAID Innovation Lab launch.
Rob Baker

Innovation is the buzzword for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the launch of its new Global Development Lab. The agency held an event, featuring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to unveil its collaboration with 32 “cornerstone partners” including US universities, major corporations, foundations and nonprofits. It comes with a roughly $1 billion annual budget, marking a significant shift in US development priorities.

The new lab puts more emphasis on discovering and spreading solutions to the biggest challenges in international development.

“With breakthroughs that reach a global scale, we can really bring an end to global poverty,” said Lona Stoll, senior adviser to USAID Administrator Raj Shah, to Humanosphere. ”It gets us to development impact better, cheaper and more sustainability.”

Its creation is the realization of a recommendation included in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, carried out when Clinton was at the helm of the US State Department, to review the performance of the entire US  State Department. USAID’s head Raj Shah has talked a lot about the need to support innovation. He has made previous forays with programs such as Development Innovation Ventures.

Private-public partnerships are increasingly getting  attention for both their positive and negative potential. The lab features notable corporate partners: Cargill, Cisco, Citi, Coca-Cola, DuPont, GlaxoSmithKline, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Nike, Syngenta, Unilever and Walmart.

The event came on the same day that an attempt by the agency to create a Twitter-like platform in Cuba to spark civil unrest, was revealed by the Associated Press. It gave cause for concerns that US development policy was not purely humanitarian. Critics the public-private partnership rush are concerned with what the lab will actually accomplish.

“This preposterous idea that corporations will solve the world’s development challenges is so out of touch [with] reality that it would be comical if it were not for its disastrous consequences,” said Anuradha Mittal, the founder and executive director of the US-based Oakland Institute thinktank, to the Guardian.

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How much do your food snacks and beverages hurt the poor? | 

Have you ever wondered to what extent that can of Pepsi or Coke – or the quasi-potato-chip Pringles or that quasi-chocolate Snickers bar – hurts the poor?

No? Well, Oxfam and its Behind the Brands campaign staff would like you to wonder about that.

And they would like you to then go check out the anti-poverty advocacy organization’s colorful online interactive chart that will tell you in quantifiable terms just how well, or badly, the top 10 food companies do when it comes to helping the poor or displacing poor farmers from their land – or otherwise undermining their rights and well-being.

The latest salvo on Oxfam’s ongoing campaign aimed at encouraging the food industry to ensure workers and poor farmers are not exploited by their practices is focused on sugar and ‘land grabs.’ Here’s the official report and, in case you are like most of us and prefer YouTube to a lengthy text report, here’s Oxfam’s video.

In the news:

The Independent Oxfam accuses Coke and Pepsi of taking land from the poor

Bloomberg Sugar trade spurs land grabs in poor countries, Oxfam says

Food Magazine Associated British Foods rejects Oxfam’s land grab accusations

IRIN Global sugar demand leaves Cambodian farmers landless

If you actually read Oxfam’s report, it’s clear that some of these mega food companies are, in fact, trying to improve when it comes to worker rights, environmental protection, water, women and other issues. Nestle scored highest in total for seven categories of rankings. Coke did better than Pepsi and Associated British Foods scored the worst, by Oxfam’s tally. Continue reading

No last mile: Changing the architecture of development | 

You may not think of architects as playing much of a role in global health, development or foreign aid. But design, in the broadest sense, matters in almost every endeavor.

Here’s an interesting article at Architecture for Development about remodeling the way we think, and talk, about foreign aid. It was recommended to me by a friend at Seattle-based PATH, where years ago I met two architects — James Cheyne and John Lloyd — who used their design skills to improve the vaccination cold chain. But that’s another story …

The gist of this article, by David Week, is that we tend to think and speak of development projects as a donor delivering a benefit to a recipient, or a product to a consumer. Says Week:

The problem with language (as feminists and racial minorities well know) is that it perpetuates a mindset. In development, the classical mindset is the “delivery” paradigm. Diagrammatically, it looks like this:

This has led, he writes, many of those working in development to speak of reaching the “last mile” as representing the ultimate goal of a project — of development as a process of delivery. The approach, he says, was adopted from the telecoms industry (though some also credit Coca-Cola).

This is a debilitating mindset, Week says, because it establishes a fundamentally passive and submissive role on the part of the beneficiary. A better mindset, which he says is taking hold in the development community, is what he calls the “development partnership” which looks like this:

Week says that the more successful development and foreign aid projects out there today are increasingly being described as partnerships, collaborations. He goes on to examine case studies in Laos, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. It’s a longish article but thought-provoking.

The take-away message is that we need to stop thinking in terms of the “last mile” and shift from a delivery mindset to one of partnership.

Corporate Global Health | 

Flickr, Señor Lebowsky

The real thing

I just read an interesting post by the always thoughtful Alanna Shaikh on the increasing number of corporations who want to get involved in global health.

It’s well worth reading.

Shaikh, who attended the UN anti-poverty confab in New York City this week, says “It’s an interesting new world of international development and global health.” She noted that the CEO of Coca-Cola announced at the Clinton Global Initiative his leading role in the Partnership for a New Beginning project — aimed at improving relations with the Muslim community worldwide.

Melinda Gates highlighted Coca-Cola in her opening TEDxChange pitch for the Millennium Development Goals earlier this week, mostly to point out that it is possible to build infrastructure that can reach even the poorest people anywhere in the world — at least with a soft drink.

It’s a good thing to get corporations interested in development. The important question Shaikh raises is if the corporate culture will get modified so that it accommodates the development philosophy — or the other way around.