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USAID Plays Catch-Up with Technology to Fight Poverty

The U.S. Global Development Lab is a new entity within USAID, and it is partnering with former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The Lab places an emphasis on using technology to fight poverty and help the poor. USAID plans to solve the issue of extreme poverty across the globe by 2030, and believes a high-tech approach is the way to make that happen.

The program is taking a more holistic approach in working with cross-sectoral partners for studying issues, engineering solutions and financing projects. This model is not only designed to work with key players in the private sector, but NGOs and universities as well. In total, the program is a partnership between USAID and 31 corporations, foundations and universities.

The Lab says this approach will lead to breakthrough innovations and development solutions in even quicker, cheaper ways. For the first time in human history, technology is advanced enough to address the issue of extreme poverty across the globe and eradicate it in less than two decades. So far, efforts worldwide have achieved Millennium Development Goal #1 by halving the number people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 per day,) putting the total at 1.2 billion.

Although the current sum of extremely impoverished people is 700 million down from 1990, which is an average of 29.2 million per year, the pace of progress needs to double in order to lift at least another 1 billion people out of extreme poverty.

USAID administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah and former undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture sees the brilliance in marrying agricultural development and high tech efforts to help poor communities across the globe. This approach is currently sweeping Africa as new tech-centric aid innovations increasingly pop up in the area with the help of mobile phones.

“I said, look, if we could get and invent new seeds, new mobile technology and open new data centers to help farmers connect their crop prices and understand weather variability, we can do something transformational against hunger,” says Shah. “And not just reach a small percentage of the people that are hungry with food.”

While Shah was working to improve agricultural efforts using science and technology to fight poverty, Secretary Clinton was working up a global fund initiative. Shah proposed they partner in their efforts, setting a strong base for collaborative efforts.

USAID spent $127 million on scientific developments in 2008 and almost $800 million in 2013. Now, with the U.S. Global Development lab, they expect as much as $30 billion in individual investment in technology to help the poor over the course of the project with the help of their partners.

Edward Heinrich

Sources: TIME, USAID Devex
Photo: Talking Points Memo