Thank you so much, Raj, and it’s exciting for me to welcome all of
you here to the State Department, actually to the Benjamin Franklin Room. Mr. Franklin
is above us over the fireplace. But what a especially fitting setting for us to be discussing
this exciting new initiative, harnessing science and technology to save and improve millions of lives around the world.
Raj just finished thanking a lot of people, but I want to thank you, Raj, for your leadership
and your commitment to innovation that produces results. And it’s been a very exciting time to try to reach out and create a network of like-minded partners and institutions to work with USAID. And I am delighted to see all of you here.
Having representatives of these seven universities focusing the ingenuity of your brightest people on these daunting challenges is very reassuring to us because we know we cannot do the work we try to do solely on the – building on the past, looking at what might have worked 10 years ago or 20 years ago. Nobody does that in the private sector, and it’s perhaps slightly more difficult to change direction in the public sector, but we know we must, and this is a very strong indicator of that.
I know we have some students with us today, and we thank them for being part of this.
I think it’s exciting that you will have a chance to really be part of solving some of
these difficult problems we face. What we’ve tried to do in the Obama Administration is
to elevate development alongside diplomacy and defense, because we consider the so-called three “D”s as being the basis, the foundation, of our foreign policy and national security.
And we’ve also tried to put real substance behind the slogan “Country-led, Country-owned.” Our goal is to help countries become self-sufficient, to be in the hoped-for future themselves, putting us out of business because of the way that we are working together now.
So we cannot rely solely on traditional development – building roads, infrastructure, hospitals, training, doctors, nurses, teachers. Incremental change is a necessary but not sufficient pathway to what we hope to accomplish. And that’s why Raj and his team have put a special focus on science and technology, and we’ve already seen some serious steps forward because of that.
We’ve kicked off a series of prizes, challenges, and competitions. USAID launched
three grand challenges for development – to save lives at birth, get all children reading,
and power agriculture through clean energy. We’ve also created new funding mechanisms
that will help bring new ideas to scale like our Development Innovation Ventures program,
which is supporting new solutions to prevent electoral fraud and to expand access to credit for underserved populations.
We’re helping build research capacity through new partnerships with the National Science
Foundation and the National Institutes of Health that connect American scientists with
their counterparts around the world. And through science fellowships, we’re bringing in more researchers, engineers and physicians to work with USAID.
Now we want to build on and expand all this progress, and we especially want to expand
our portfolio of partners in the private sector, in local NGOs, and of course in the academic
and research community, and that’s where all of you come in. Each of the seven universities represented here today has committed to create a development lab. Working with USAID’s field mission experts and Washington staff, scientists and researchers in these labs will apply the latest science and technology to some of the biggest challenges in development.
For example, MIT, a leader in design and technology, will publish reports on the effectiveness of different technologies ranging from treadle pumps to microscopes mounted on cell phones.
Think of it as a kind of consumers report for development. Berkeley and MIT are creating
a new discipline of development science and engineering. That will mean new courses, new journals, new departments, and even new PhDs dedicated to design for low and middle-income countries. And Makerere, a university in Uganda, will engage the developing world by creating online courses with a special focus on people helping themselves to get an education as well as fighting for more transparency, accountability, justice and equality in their own societies.
At Texas A&M, researchers will bring a special focus on improving agricultural productivity.
William & Mary will help USAID advance its use of data and analytics to improve decision-making. Scientists at Michigan State will study megatrends like population growth and climate change.
In many parts of the world, as you know so well, rising temperatures and unpredictable
rainfall patterns are making it harder for farmers to grow enough food, putting a strain
on entire agricultural systems. Now of course, climate change is not a problem that only
hurts people in faraway places. It affects everyone, and we are seeing the effects, as
we speak, in our own country. And I think it’s increasingly imperative that we address
that issue at every level of society.
So the idea behind the Higher Education Solutions Network that we are launching today is to take advantage of each lab’s unique abilities. Here’s an example of how it could work:
An entrepreneur at Berkeley discovers a groundbreaking innovation to bring clean drinking water to low-income families, but she needs to take it to scale. So the network connects her to researchers at Duke who have expertise in accelerating and scaling up solutions, and together, they grow her business so her work benefits hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.
I’m very excited about this project and pleased to announce that USAID has committed up to $130 million for the network and development labs over the next five years. This commitment will be matched by an equivalent amount from universities and their partners.
But to make this network a reality, we need your input and ideas. So in the rest of this session, which Raj will chair, I hope you’ll explore how we can work together to make what we’re doing as effective as possible as soon as possible. How can we ensure that this is not just a series of individual grants or one-off accomplishments, but instead we create an
integrated network that delivers large-scale impact?
So I’m very excited about this. I’m sorry I can’t stay for the discussion. I have to
go over to the White House. Now that the election is over, we’re trying to – (laughter) – make up for a lot of lost time in dealing with a lot of the issues that are pressing for
our country and the world. But Raj will give me a full debrief.
But again, I want to thank all the universities. We’re especially pleased to have you come
from Uganda. Eventually, our dream would be that this would be a global network, and that development labs would be working around the world, all networked and creating very positive outcomes for millions and millions of people who might never hear of what we are doing, but would see the results of all of your work.
Thank you very much. Thanks, Raj. (Applause.)