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President-Elect Trump’s USAID Briefing Book on the US Global Development Lab

By Wayan Vota on December 18, 2016

Whenever a new political administration ascends into power in the USA, each government agency writes a briefing book describing their efforts and aspirations. USAID is no different.

Agency staff wrote a briefing book describing all aspects of USAID’s work for the new administration. The full 119 page USAID briefing book includes:

  • A set of “Corporate Papers” that discuss overarching issues confronting the Agency,
  • Bureau Briefs that provide summaries of main Washington operating units and their key concerns,
  • Supporting Documents that examine individual topics in more detail, and a range of other papers, including Bureau Profiles, budgets, look‐ahead calendars, reference sheets on initiatives, coordinators, and directives,
  • And documents about the Agency’s history, foundational legislation, and organizational structure.

Rather than read the full document, you’re probably most interested in how the Global Development Lab presented itself to the new administration. Below is their full synopsis.


The U.S. Global Development Lab serves as an innovation hub that seeks to take smart risks to test new ideas and partners that accelerate development impact. The Lab operates under these guiding principles:

  •  Open and Inclusive: Draw upon the ingenuity of people from around the world.
  •  Evidence­ based: Invest based on strong evidence of impact.
  •  Catalytic: Attract the support of others to enable sustainable development solutions that reach 
massive scale.
  •  Agile: Create fast feedback loops that enable continuous learning and performance 


The Lab’s strategic plan established high‐level objectives around science, technology, innovation and partnership (STIP), to dramatically ramp up the Lab’s work with Missions and Bureaus across USAID. Over the last two and half years, the Lab has made significant progress towards its two part mission, but more remains to be done:

  •  Produce breakthrough development innovations by sourcing, testing, and scaling proven solutions that could impact millions of people; and
  •  Accelerate the transformation of the development enterprise by opening development to people everywhere with good ideas, promoting new and deepening existing partnerships, bringing data and evidence to bear, and harnessing scientific and technological advances.


Accelerate Impact at USAID: A top priority for the Lab is to partner with Missions and Bureaus to jointly leverage Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnership (STIP) tools and approaches to accelerate development results and maximize impact. In FY 2016, the Lab oriented its budget so that more than 50 percent is dedicated to supporting Missions and Bureaus through co‐programming and technical assistance, including three dedicated Lab­wide priority teams to bring the suite of Lab offerings to three of USAID’s top priorities: Ebola, Power Africa, and Feed the Future.

The Lab seeks to take smart risks ‐ through Grand Challenges, Development Innovation Ventures, and other creative approaches ‐ that weed out ideas that fail to demonstrate impact, enabling Missions and Bureaus to choose from a menu of proven innovations, tools, and approaches that will help them more effectively deliver on their development objectives. Overall, Agency demand for Lab services continues to rise. In the first half of FY 2016, 50 Missions and Bureaus used Lab‐supported tools, approaches, and advisory services, more than in all of FY 2014. Two years ago, buy‐ins into Lab mechanisms were valued at $54 million; buy‐ins jumped to $85 million in FY 2015, with further increases anticipated in FY 2016.

Process Innovation: The Lab hosts an Operational Innovations team, consisting of dual‐hatied experts from across Agency functions, with a charter to “hack the bureaucracy” to improve efficiencies and outcomes. One tool—the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA)—is a procurement approach that allows USAID to work with potential partners to define a problem and co‐create solutions before making an award. In the last two years, USAID issued 53 BAAs resulting in more than 100 awards. In Indonesia, for example, the Lab worked with the Mission to issue a BAA to identify new solutions on inclusive workforce development; more than 130 organizations expressed interest in co‐creating solutions to this challenge.

Engage New Actors: The Lab seeks to engage the ingenuity of people from around the world to solve development challenges. For example, in the most recent round of applications for the Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge, 75 percent of our applicants have never received USAID funding before, and 74 percent of applicants were from developing countries.

Catalyze Private Sector Engagement: 91 percent of financial flows from the United States to the developing world now come from private sources. The Lab provides training, toolkits, advisory services, and research on partnership effectiveness to the rest of the Agency to enable them to leverage private sector expertise and capital to drive sustainable development results. In FY 2015, USAID had more than 360 active public‐private partnerships with leverage commitments of $5.9 billion. For every taxpayer dollar spent on it, the entire Lab leverages at least $1 of external funding.

Achieve Scale: Part of the Lab’s mandate is to work with USAID and other donors to bring development interventions to the massive scale that is needed to achieve our mission. For example, the Lab invested in a diverse portiolio of more than 900 innovations, taking a venture‐capital style approach. An early $100,000 investment in OffGrid: Electric (a pay‐as‐you‐go home solar system business in Tanzania) is now providing electricity to more than 100,000 homes and has received more than $100 million in external debt and equity.

Increase Flexibility: The Lab was allocated flexible funding to enable experimentation across sectors and geographies, in a rapidly changing world. The Lab was also set up with a flexible staffing strategy to atiract and retain staff from non‐traditional backgrounds such as technology, scientific research, finance, and the private sector. The Lab has taken advantage of fellowship programs and new hiring authorities, and could benefit from even greater flexibility in hiring and staffing.

Keep Experimenting: The Lab is designed to identify cuting edge development and technology trends, then “test the waters” to see if they are of broader applicability to development goals. For example, the Lab played a crucial “early adopter” role regarding tools such as mobile money, real time data systems, geospatial analysis, and co‐creation, which are now being integrated across the Agency. Potential future opportunities for experimentation might include areas such as machine learning, drones, data visualization, or outcomes‐based financing. This “over the horizon” function was originally conceived to be a greater area of focus, and has been limited by budget levels and staffing flexibility.


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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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