Innovation in Development

USAID Fall Semester: Mobile Money
Virtual Classroom: Mobile Money
USAID - At the Forefront of Innovation to Prevent HIV
USAID - At the Forefront of Innovation to Prevent HIV
Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development
Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development


We're broadening the current focus on a top-down institutionally driven model of development to adopt an “open source development” model that empowers more people—including students like you—to solve global development challenges. This involves harnessing the ingenuity and expertise of an increasingly diverse global development community in ways that will protect the opportunities of vulnerable and poor populations to survive and thrive. Today, through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing the same forces to transform more lives than ever before. We advocate for Innovation across the Agency . We encourage innovation, the pursuit of drastic (not incremental) increases in the reach, cost-efficiency, and effectiveness of development solution.


Innovation -  At USAID, we use innovation to refer to novel business or organizational models, operational or production processes, or products or services that lead to substantial improvements (not incremental “next steps”) in addressing development challenges.  Innovation may incorporate science and technology but is often broader, to include new processes or business models.

Microfinance – The supply of loans, savings, and other basic financial services to poor communities throughout the world

Mobile Money- The term used for using mobile technology, such as cell phones, to use financial services such as storing and transferring money. By utilizing mobile money, the amount of people with access to financial services is increased drastically. Mobile money gives people in remote locations access to financial services without the presence of a physical bank.

DIV – DIV stands for Development Innovation Venture. Development Innovation ventures aim to find and support breakthrough solutions to the world’s most important development challenges – interventions with the power to change millions of lives at a fraction of the usual cost. DIV invests in these game-changing ideas, rigorously tests them using cutting edge analytical methods, and scales solutions that prove they work.

Open Source Development – A model of development that is based on the idea that game changing ideas and innovations can come from anyone, not just development institutions. This model of development seeks to find solutions to development challenges by engaging a broader community, notably university students and researchers.

Financial Inclusion – the delivery of financial services at affordable costs to vast sections of disadvantaged and low income groups. A community with access to affordable financial services has the opportunity to connect with other markets, invest, and drive growth in their community.

Sustainable Development – is a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving these resources so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also in the future.

Scale-up- With regard to innovation in development; scaling-up refers to increasing proportionately the availability of an intervention that has been shown to have proven success. DIV helps to scale-up the most innovative development solutions.

MEducation – Meducation refers to the process of empowering and educating populations through the use of mobile technology, notably cell phones. Mobile phones provide an efficient way to target a large number of people with educational information that can help them tackle their development challenges. 

Examples of Innovations in Development @USAID

  • We’re building mobile money programs in nations like Afghanistan and Haiti, where banks are rare, but cell phones are everywhere. Together with the Gates Foundation, we’ve now helped nearly 800,000 Haitians save money and make safe financial transactions on their mobile phones.
  • We’re scaling up access to agricultural technologies and prioritizing research into new seeds that can withstand droughts, thrive in floods and resist climate change. As a results, vitamin A-rich sweet potatoes are helping children today in vulnerable regions like the Horn of Africa resist disease and improve their nutrition.
  • We’re spurring innovation in global health through global competitions likeSaving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development. This past year, the Grand Challenge garnered more than 600 cutting-edge ideas to help mothers give birth safely in poor and rural settings.
  • And through our Development Innovations Fund, we’re supporting entrepreneurs around the world who have a great idea and need the resources to test it out or scale it up.
  • Development Innovation Ventures, which provides a mechanism for identifying and testing promising development solutions, and scaling proven successes.
  • Mobile Solutions:  More people now have access to a mobile phone than a clean toilet, and mobile banking has the potential to accelerate development outcomes related to financial inclusion, transparency, and accountability among others.  IDEA seeks to spur the adoption of mobile banking in several key countries, establish mobile payments as a viable alternative to cash payments, and mainstream mobile banking within development programming.
  • Establishing High-Impact, Agency-Wide Global Partnerships: IDEA manages the the Global Development Alliance (GDA) program. Established in 2001, GDA has led to nearly a thousand alliances (i.e. public-private partnerships) with over 1,700 distinct partners to leverage more than $9 billion in combined public and private resources. IDEA’s Global Partnership Division has both an external and internal function in that it pursues partnerships on specific Agency priorities while helping offices across the Agency develop their own partnership capacity.
  • Supporting Locally Sustainable programming:  Working closely with local implementing partners and building their capacity is a key aspect of the Agency’s implementation and procurement reform efforts.  IDEA manages several different grant programs -- including the Development Grants Program, Cooperative Development Program, and the Small Projects Assistance Program – as well as the registration of private voluntary organizations aimed at improving aid effectiveness and sustainability by supporting local organizations.


“We’re expanding scientific collaboration with other countries and investing in game-changing science and technology to help spark historic leaps in development.” - President Obama

“Innovation, science, technology must again become fundamental components of how we conduct development” Secretary Clinton

“To support an open source development approach, our Agency must serve as a platform that connects world’s biggest development challenges to development problems solvers – all around the world.  We recognize that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not.” Raj Shah

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