The U.S. Global Development Lab (The Lab) aims to spearhead a bold approach to invent, test, and apply dramatically more cost efficient and impactful solutions to help men, women and children lift themselves out of extreme poverty. The Lab collaborates with entrepreneurs, world-class experts from corporations, NGOs, universities, and science and research institutions in applying science, technology, innovation and partnerships to solve development challenges faster and cheaper, saving or improving the lives of millions of people. The Lab seeks to influence the international development enterprise to produce breakthrough development innovations and to model a new way to achieve transformational development impact through knowledge sharing, global crowdsourcing for solutions, and scaling-up of tested breakthroughs.
To this end the Lab and Big Ideas@Berkeley are teaming up to launch the Blind Spots in International Development Essay Contest. Through our network of partner institutions in HESN, global researchers in the RI Fellows, PEER Program and USAID Mission Staff, we are asking you to let USAID and the global community know about those development issues that are not widely recognized but are hindering programs and initiatives that aim to save the lives of millions. In particular, we want to hear about those unrecognized challenges that can be addressed using science, technology and/or catalytic partnerships (STIP). From your work on the ground or in-country, we want you to be our eyes and ears and tell us where you’ve seen misplaced attention and resources, or amazing opportunities onto which global development actors can focus their efforts and create exponential impact. We know that many of the challenges you identify do not have answers.
We are not asking you to identify solutions to the challenges you have seen or experienced. We want to hear from you about development challenges currently not garnering sufficient attention through which, a team of global solvers working in innovative new ways and in partnerships, may lead to breakthroughs to these difficult development challenges.
From your many hours, years, or decades in service to USAID’s priorities, the true institutional memory of our success and faults lies locked away within you. We are asking for you to identify what you see as major opportunities to leverage the power of science, technology, innovation and strategic partnerships (STIP) to solve problems that are currently not being addressed. You stand at a unique position to identify programs and projects that could have had greater, deeper and scalable impact if only a specific component was addressed using STIP. The Lab would like to use the Blind Spots in International Development Essay Contest as an opportunity to hear directly from you, where are the blind spots that the global development community can respond, and/or leap-frog those barriers that keep our programs from having scalable impact. While USAID Staff are NOT eligible for the cash prize, and will only be scored and ranked among other Staff, you are eligible for the recognition prizes (see prizes section).
“What is the most significant overlooked development challenge
that can be addressed using STIP?”
USAID and Big Ideas@Berkeley want your help to uncover and analyze the “blind spots” in international development. Use your field experience, knowledge or expertise to help USAID identify development challenges that are currently overlooked, yet are in need of immediate attention. In particular, we want to hear about those unrecognized challenges that would benefit from the power of science, technology, innovation, or strategic partnership (STIP) and potentially improve the lives of millions.
This contest seeks essays, 1750-2000 words in length (not including reference sections and citations), that address the following questions:
- What and where is the unrecognized development challenge that you have observed?
- What social, economic, political, and/or environmental barriers exist that are related to this development blind spot? (Please cite studies, reports, and/or technical data to provide proof/background.)
- Is there a population subset—children, youth, women, minorities, LGBT, etc.—whose lives could be improved as a result?
- If the development blind spot were overcome using STIP, what might the impact be locally, regionally, nationally, or globally (qualitatively or quantitatively)?
Examples of Blind Spots
USAID and Big Ideas@Berkeley seek a wide scope and variety of existing blind spots in international development. This could be the misidentification of root problems in an existing project, related issues that arise during an intervention, or areas that have largely been overlooked by the development community as a whole. Our definition of a blind spot is purposefully loose in order to capture a range of experiences, and your insights while volunteering, working or studying abroad are of interest.
Below are three abbreviated examples of potential “blind spots” essay topics. These examples are only meant to provide guidance for applicants to help them better understand the intent of this contest.
Rural Energy Solutions in Kenya
A diverse team of economists and engineers designed a sophisticated microgrid system to help “offgrid” homes in rural Kenya obtain electricity. Once the team was on the ground they found that 70% of households were close enough to the existing grid to be connected, but a one-time “hook-up” fee of $400 was deterring families from signing up.
Blind spot: The development issue was not a complete lack of power access requiring a novel technology solution. The complex problem required incorporating new technology as well as more sustainable financing and distribution mechanisms – including pay-as-you-go power systems – within the existing electricity grid.
Rural Broadband Models in Haiti
Implementers established a wider-reaching broadband network, with the hope that Internet service providers (ISPs) would capitalize on the opportunity and develop packages and solutions affordable to rural clients. While they were able to put in place a broadband network that covered most of the country – at costs significantly lower than the alternative of satellite (VSAT) connectivity – the service packages offered by ISPs were still cost prohibitive for rural residents. Based on interviews conducted with the ISPs, the team discovered that the cost of broadband connectivity in Haiti is relatively high. The wholesale cost of broadband Internet coming into Haiti ranges from $200 USD to $600 USD per month per Mbps, compared to a cost of only $16 USD per month per Mbps coming into Miami.
Blind spot: The lack of rural connectivity did not result from a hardware issue, but rather reflected a cost issue. Until the monthly cost of broadband was negotiated down, full network capacity could not be utilized and ISPs would not be willing or able to offer affordable service packages to rural communities.
Novel Farming Models in Kenya
A community launched a new program to integrate new farming techniques for small scale farming families with a communal sales center. This new model guaranteed the community set their prices together and benefited from the increased income from the excess crops. After three years, several farms were indeed using the new techniques, producing excess crops and using the communal model to sell those crops to larger distributors. However, the net income of those families did not increase to the amount it should.
Blind spot: Local laws allowed the village chiefs, and primary brokers between the farmers and the distributor, to take a percentage of the crop sales per farmer family. Despite the sound theory behind the novel farming approach, unionizing the farmers did not ensure that they were the primary beneficiaries of the newly liberated capital.
Individuals in the following cohorts are eligible to apply to this essay contest:
- Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER): Awardees and their research teams.
- Research and Innovation Fellows: Fellows and Hosts
- USAID Mission Staff (*Note: Mission staff are not eligible for the financial awards, but may receive recognition prizes)
- All matriculated undergraduate and graduate students from the following universities within USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network:
- UC Berkeley
- College of William and Mary
- Duke University
- Makerere University (Uganda)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Michigan State University
- Texas A&M University
Your essay will be scored (% provided in parenthesis) based on the quality of the following content.
- Description of the development challenge and the location or region of observation. (25%)
- Novelty of the blind spot — How significant and overlooked is the development challenge? (10%)
- Description of the social, economic, political, and/or environmental barriers related to this development blind spot (Please cite studies, reports, and/or data to provide proof/background.) (25%)
- Description of the population subset—children, youth, women, minorities, LGBT, (etc.) whose lives could be improved as a result. (25%)
- If the development blind spot were overcome using STIP, what might the impact be locally, regionally, nationally, or globally (qualitatively and quantitatively)? (15%)
- September 2: Competition launches
- September 2 to October 1: Online application period for essay submission.
- October 1: Competition Deadline (12pm, Pacific Time)
- October 3 to October 17: Judges Review Period
- November 10: Formal announcement of Winners
Awards and Recognition
Three monetary prizes and up to 5 recognition prizes will be awarded to the top development challenge essays.
- First Place: $3,000 (USD)
- Second Place: $2,000 (USD)
- Third Place: $1,000 (USD)
- A small set of the top development challenges will be used as selection criteria for a special USAID prize at the 2016 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF)
- Winning development challenges to be posted on the U.S. Global Development Lab website
- Promotion of winning essays through HESN and USAID networks (newsletters, social media, websites)
- Editorial advice/guidance for placement of essays in external publications (e.g., Journal of International Development “Field Report”)
Please direct any questions or comments by contacting us at:
Email: blindspots [at] berkeley [dot] edu