Keynote speaker Ann Mei Chang emphasizes importance of rapid innovation, data collection in international development
Ann Mei Chang is the new Executive Director of USAID's U.S. Global Development Lab (GDL) and served as the keynote speaker at the 2015 Duke Symposium on Scaling Innovations in Global Health. The GDL has a two-part mission: 1) to produce breakthrough development innovations and 2) accelerate the transformation of the US development enterprise. Having spent decades in Silicon Valley, Chang’s biggest strength is in technology in developing countries, with a special focus on women’s issues. During her talk, Chang described aspects of USAID’s five pillars of twenty-first century development: evidence and iteration, partnership, technology, open innovation, and scale and sustainability. Chang paid special attention to using data and technology in transformative ways to speed up development, noting that you can only improve what can be measured. “If you can’t measure it, it’s not worth doing,” Chang said, acknowledging her intense focus on evidence. Chang noted that USAID is trying to take some hints from fast-moving developers in Silicon Valley and apply these ideas to global development, which is usually approached in slow-moving projects. She mentioned the importance of heuristic, less precise methods of data collection in order to get an idea of what is going on before diving into more intensive studies.
With a special focus on rising entrepreneurs, Chang discussed how her favorite quote comes from Thomas Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration, and 99% perspiration.” She noted how great ideas can be formulated relatively quickly, but the long slog comes with figuring out how to apply the ideas in society. Chang’s spunky and insightful keynote kicked off the 2015 SEAD Symposium and gave participants a government and private sector-based perspective on the effort and opportunity in innovating for international development.