How then can we orient ourselves to successfully innovate when the timeline for demonstrating results does not match the timeline of the innovators they are trying to support?
During a career panel with distinguished speakers, including former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, it became evident that the timeline USAID has to demonstrate impact is getting shorter and shorter; as Alex Deghan put it himself “the absence of acceptable failure can kill innovation”. Further compounding the barriers to bringing disruptive innovations to scale is the iterative process through which innovation takes place. The development of a truly disruptive innovation takes time, something that has been in short supply at USAID. How then can we orient ourselves to successfully innovate when the timeline for demonstrating results does not match the timeline of the innovators they are trying to support? The answer that resonated with me- “you”- was posed by Sheila Desai, Deputy Director for the Office of Food Security within the USAID/India Mission, as she spoke to a group of undergraduate and graduate level students interested in pursuing careers in development. She stressed that if the way things are being done will not work, we are the ones who need to push for change in the future.
While I believe it is of utmost importance to innovate and develop solutions to some of the biggest problems on our planet, if we do not think about this in the larger context of aid delivery and the challenges this brings, then we are not doing our innovations justice. Many believe that we have all the technological innovations we need in order to end poverty, hunger and the majority of issues in developing countries, and that the problem is not too little innovation but a lack of collaboration in a way that allows these innovations to be successful outside of the lab or a business plan. To make matters even more complicated, aid is increasingly becoming only one way of sharing innovations across the globe. Foreign direct investment is on the rise in developing countries and private industries are beginning to realize the long-term value of bringing solutions to these emerging markets. My time within HESN has challenged me to think outside of the box for solutions, consider all stakeholders and what each has to bring to the table and most importantly, consider context, including domestic aid policy, as one of the most important factors in successful innovation implementation. I encourage us all to think a little bit more about the context in which we are innovating, because it is mastering working within this context that can bring an innovation to life.