“Even the way we change is changing,” Thomas Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), told attendees at the July 28 congressional briefing co-hosted by MFAN and the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC). Nearly 90 individuals from congressional offices, US government agencies, and the development and global health communities participated in a discussion about how research and innovation can be leveraged to advance the nation’s foreign assistance goals.
Panelists in the briefing highlighted the crucial role that science and innovation play in foreign aid, with a focus on past successes and future opportunities in global health research. The event, “Innovation to catalyze development: Leveraging research in US foreign assistance,” was moderated by Susan Dentzer, Editor-in-Chief of Health Affairs, and included Mr. Kalil; Dr. Jeffrey Sturchio, MFAN Principal and President and CEO of the Global Health Council; Dr. Maura O’Neill, Senior Counselor to the Administrator and Chief Innovation Officer at USAID; and Dr. Corey Casper, Director of the Uganda Program on Cancer and Infectious Diseases (UPCID) at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
In order to maximize the US investment in science and technology and deliver effective assistance, panelists stressed a whole-of-government approach to foreign aid. It is “essential” that the United States has a “coordinated, multidisciplinary” approach to international development, Dr. Casper said. For example, panelists highlighted a study conducted among nearly 900 women at two sites in South Africa that showed a notable reduction in the risk of HIV infection associated with an experimental HIV prevention gel, called a microbicide. The research benefited enormously from interagency partnership—the study was supported, in large part, by USAID, as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—and demonstrates the type of success possible when US agencies collaborate effectively.
Jeff Sturchio specifically argued that the US needs a global development strategy that is whole-of-government, coherent, and responsive to local needs. Such a strategy should also be built on transparency and accountability and partnership with civil society, donors, and other governments. Sturchio then put forward the notion of a whole-of-society approach, which the other panelists picked up on throughout the remainder of the discussion.
Panelists also highlighted that several US officials are prioritizing science and innovation as a pillar of US development efforts. For example, Mr. Kalil explained how the Obama administration has made science and innovation priorities for United States’ global development policy, recently deploying the first three US science envoys throughout the Muslim world to foster scientific exchange. He further highlighted the new leadership from non-development agencies, such as NIH Director Francis Collins’ prioritization of research to meet global health challenges.
In addition, Dr. O’Neill emphasized that USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah has made innovation a priority for the agency. Earlier this year, Shah highlighted science and technology as one of USAID’s four core pillars, noting that the agency will find “new ways to leverage science and technology to develop and deliver those tools and innovations that we believe can lead to exponential growth and transformational change.”
In order to keep pace in a changing world, panelists argued that US policymakers must capitalize upon the country’s strong history of advancing science, research, and innovation to benefit the developing world. As Congress and the Administration reform the United States’ approach to global development, policymakers should incorporate US agencies’ scientific prowess as a key component of a new development strategy.
Check back for a video of the event in the coming week and see additional resources below:
- GHTC fact sheet on research in foreign assistance
- Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network website
- GHTC feature story on microbicide trial
- GHTC recent news bulletin on USAID science conference
- GHTC announcement on Obama Administration’s prioritization of science in diplomacy
- The role of innovation in foreign assistance reform