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Eradicating Poverty through Science and Innovation

April 28, 2014
Borgen Project

The new USAID lab aims to eradicate poverty by 2030 through the power of science and innovation. Inspired by other humble technologies such as the “cow manure fridge,” the agency plans to invest 1 billion dollars a year into its New Global Development laboratory. The idea is for this project to be a collaborative effort between scientists, corporations, universities and non-governmental organizations.

The lab is being designed in the image of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the arm of the Defense Department known for creating new technologies such as the Internet. But in this case the goal is to tackle issues related to poverty.

So far this initiative counts with the collaboration of 30 founding corporate members. These “cornerstone partners,” announced this month, include Microsoft, Intel, Cisco Systems, DuPont, Walmart, Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian Institution, Duke, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and several other universities, as well as the government of Sweden.

While these partners under normal circumstances would not come together, their collaborative effort in this case represents 30 billion dollars put towards the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

According to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, the goal of this “global community of inventors, academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and corporate leaders in science and technology” is to “invent, test and scale the most promising and cost-effective solutions to end extreme poverty.” Initially the efforts of the laboratory will be concentrated on six areas: water, health, food security and nutrition, energy, education and climate change.

While many have praised this way of tackling world poverty, some anti-poverty campaigners see the lab as further evidence of the commercialization of development. Organizations such as the Oakland Institute and the World Development Movement doubt that this kind of partnership will bring the desired results to deal with the roots of world poverty.

However, the USAID argues that this approach has a better chance of providing solutions since it does not focus on answering to a specific problem. They call it a “creation lab” where partners come with new ideas to be discussed and tested. This makes for endless possibilities when it comes to fighting the roots of extreme poverty. “The lab has ambitions of disruptive technologies and game-changing solutions really helping improve the lives of 200 million people in five years.”

The aim is to produce things like the Pratt Pouch, a two-cent package of antiretroviral drugs given to children at birth to prevent the transition of HIV/AIDS, or bringing electricity to rural areas without building extensive electrical grids.

USAID hopes that the lab one day will bring real change in the world when it comes to poverty reduction. However, there is no shortage of skepticism as many view the role of corporations in fighting the world’s plight as something preposterous or even comical.