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Collaboration Through Innovation for 21st Century Global Development

Combining the ingenuity of both the United States and India can help solve health, food, climate, and other key development challenges more quickly than if pursued separately.

During his historic visit to India in November 2010, President Obama noted in his interaction with rural villagers from Kanpura that, “India may be in a position to leapfrog” service delivery through its newly launched “e-panchayat” program, an effort to connect all of India’s 250,000 rural villages to broadband Internet.  We had the pleasure of visiting Kanpura when the service launched in September 2010 as part of the US-India Innovation Exchange, and celebrated its inclusion in an expo on Democracy and Open Government that shined a spotlight on opportunities for India and the United States to collaborate on open innovation. And we haven’t looked back since – from the formal launch of the US-India Open Government Dialogue to USAID Administrator Raj Shah’s recent announcement of the Millennium Alliance.

Combining the ingenuity of both the United States and India can help solve health, food, climate, and other key development challenges more quickly than if pursued separately.  And this model can be used across the globe to ensure that foreign assistance is used in the most cost-effective manner.

But the real reason this development work is worthwhile is because of the people it affects. It is about the stories of young girls like Saima Hussain. Her mom, Talat, was one of the first Indian woman entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. She grew up watching her mother have the joys and struggles of crafting an idea in the semiconductor industry and figuring out how to start and grow a company.  Talat knew that even more success could be had if the talent of people from both India and the United States was harnessed to solve global problems.

The day after graduating from Stanford, Saima, who had tutored kids in one of the poorest parts of the Bay Area, packed her bags and traveled to India to start a new social venture. She knew there were tons of girls who were smart but came from homes where they didn’t know a better future was possible. That led to her founding Roshni Academy with 22 modules giving girls the soft skills to succeed. Four thousand girls have already participated in the last two years. Taking a page out of her mother’s book, she is scaling her own social venture quickly to reach tens of thousands in India and imagining chapters in some of America’s poorest neighborhoods

Launched last month, The Millennium Alliance: An Indian-USAID Innovation Partnership for Global Development will help discover innovative models that draw from the expertise of India and the United States. Launched as a partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers (FICCI), Basix (one of the largest microfinance organizations in India), and Infinity Innovation Fund (an Indian venture operation), the Millennium Alliance’s goal is to source and scale Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) for India and the rest of the world. To help launch it, USAID committed $7.5 million, with India’s businesses doing its share by raising $50 million in seed capital, grants, loans, guarantees and technical support for ideas that deliver breakthroughs for those living at the “bottom of the pyramid."

Solving the problems of the poor is emerging as a global innovation challenge – a topic we tackled first-hand during India’s first Global Innovation Roundtable in November when India’s National Innovation Council unveiled its “Report to the People,” calling for greater entrepreneurship and financing solutions that promote inclusive growth.

With USAID’s latest effort, and the ongoing progress in the US-India Open Government Dialogue, we are confident that America’sgenerosity and compassion and India’s commitment to inclusive growth will surface breakthrough ideas that, when scaled, will help lift up the world’s poor.

Aneesh Chopra is US Chief Technology Officer and Maura O’Neill is Chief Innovation Officer of the US Agency for International Development