What we learned in Mexico City

Moonshots seem impossible—until they’ve hit their target. This was the mantra of our in-person accelerator workshop, hosted with our partners at Unlock Aid in Mexico City. The workshop was just one part of our larger accelerator process where we’re working with innovators to develop moonshots around global development targets. FAS’s largest policy-development convening to date brought together over 70 participants (representing 40+ organizations, 25+ countries, and six continents) to think through creative approaches for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. 

Maeve Skelly leading a brainstorming session

After years of Zoom calls, phone conferences, and emails, meeting our accelerator cohort in person was a refreshing change of pace. Connecting IRL enabled free-flowing collaboration on big issues like global water security, access, and safety. We saw convergence across organizations: City Taps, Drinkwell, and Evidence Action came together to create the “WaterShot”—a new approach to solving water access with an outcomes marketplace framework. We were reminded anew that policy is powered by people—and that strong interpersonal connections inevitably lead to better and more creative policy ideas.

Brainstorming at the event was inspired by remarks from global development leaders. Project Drawdown spoke about the Drawdown Framework for climate solutions, NPX Advisors demonstrated how to drive better outcomes with advanced market commitments, and Nasra Ismail, a leader in global development strategy, talked about the power of coalition building.

Josh Schoop answering participant questions

The workshop was an initial opportunity to expose global development experts to the idea that policy, like seed funding or infrastructure investment, is an input that supports scaling. Most individual innovators are understandably hyper-focused on scaling up their individual ideas or products. But good policy is needed to build a flourishing global development environment—a rising tide that lifts all entrepreneurial ships. An underlying theme of the Mexico City workshop was the importance of policy as a growth enabler. 

Now that we’re back in DC and over our jetlag, the accelerator continues, and we’re working with workshop participants to inform policymakers on key priorities for global development policy. We’re thinking about pain points in the field and opportunities for systems change, including earmarking funds for innovation, uplifting and incorporating community voices to policy, and setting new standards that focus on results.

The field of global development can be individualized and competitive—grants are few and far between, which doesn’t always foster shared best practices. But achieving the SDGs by 2030 must be a collaborative effort. Problems like climate change and food security are more pressing than ever, and they require an entirely new way of thinking about global development—finding and building on opportunities from proven results. Later this fall, look out for our participants’ moonshot memos as we roll them out. And if you have an idea about meeting the SDGs with a moonshot—or something else—why not submit it? Aiming at the moon is one thing, but getting there takes dedicated and sustained collaboration, and we’re so honored that these daring organizations want to work with us to do just that.

The Accelerator cohort in Mexico City

The Day One Project is going international!

The Day One Project is going international! My colleague Josh Schoop and I will be spending this week in Mexico City with our partners at Unlock Aid, where we’ll be co-hosting the Reimagining the Future of Global Development Moonshot Accelerator. This will be our eighth accelerator cohort, and the very first in-person group. 

We’re convening a group of 70 entrepreneurs, innovators, policymakers, and funders from around the world to think big about the future of global development and how government, business, industry, and aid can meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. With the recent passage of a historic investment in the transition away from fossil fuels, the time is now to act on the biggest threats facing humanity. Sitting squarely within ‘the decade of delivery’—the remaining years we have to achieve the SDGs— this moonshot accelerator serves as an important call for action. 

Our goal for this accelerator is to disrupt. We aim to generate new models to seed, scale, and implement catalytic solutions. The inspiration for the design of this accelerator comes from the “moonshot” model that the Kennedy administration pioneered to put the first man on the moon. A moonshot has since come to mean solving a daunting problem in an accelerated time period, requiring breakthrough, innovative, and radical thinking. If the past decades have not delivered the necessary change, then we have to shoot for the moon.

Over the course of the week, we’ll be working with the accelerator cohort to develop their own moonshots in health, the green economy, biodiversity, food and water insecurity, and more. These moonshots will be the building blocks for a Global Development Outcomes Marketplace, pitching funders and policymakers on new ways to unlock innovation in global development. Innovation here involves so much more than just new technology – it means new systems, processes, cooperation, organizing, and change, while ensuring that diverse perspectives are leading the way forward. 

We’re really invested in these ideas and the people driving them, so here’s a sneak peek at a couple innovative groups joining us in Mexico City: Instiglio, headquartered in Bogotá, Colombia, is experimenting with new global development systems, like innovative financing methods, while SwipeRx in Indonesia is dedicated to revolutionizing the pharmacy industry with a tech-based solution. There are, of course, so many more groups who’ll be discussing and testing their ideas in-person, and the goal is to channel this cohort’s diverse expertise to create high-level, actionable recommendations for funders and multilateral organizations that center equity and outcomes. 

I’m most excited to hear from experts and entrepreneurs from all over the world on what has been holding back progress despite attempted solutions, and I look forward to collaborating on what a new set of systems could look like. I’m excited to learn from our inspiring cohort, and to build mutual understanding across sectors to find ways to improve current solutions and break ground on a new path forward.I have high hopes that this accelerator will reinvigorate global development and uplift new voices and ideas in order to build a more prosperous planet. I resonate strongly with the voices of young people demanding urgent climate action worldwide–it’s time to harness this momentum to make sustainable, transformative change. Follow the journey of our first in-person accelerator on Twitter.

Accelerating Innovation, Performance, and Impact at USAID

Summary

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) tackles some of the toughest challenges in some of the toughest places on earth, including fighting global pandemics, growing economic prosperity, strengthening democratic institutions, and providing humanitarian relief. USAID plays an important role in addressing global development problems that initially lack effective, scalable, and sustainable solutions. Yet USAID’s activities allow little room for the risk taking or iteration needed to drive significant improvements and encourage disruptive new ideas, with most programs implemented through detailed plans with rigid designs.

Imagine if the pace of progress for global development could match the breakneck pace of advances in the tech sector. The next administration should assess where current USAID interventions are inadequately meeting global need, applying best practices from innovation to improve programs accordingly. This will include shifting to outcomes-based performance metrics, dedicating budget for experimentation, establishing incentives that encourage risk-taking, linking payments with outcomes, and conducting ex-post evaluations of scale and sustainability.