Heather Esper

ANDE Conference Live: Dr. Rajiv Shah’s Opening Plenary

This week, members of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs convene in Glen Cove for the second Annual ANDE Conference. Staff Writer Heather Esper sends us the first report from the venue that ends tomorrow.

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The 2010 Annual ANDE Conference kicked off with Dr. Rajiv Shah giving the opening plenary. When Dr. Shah began his term, many in the development community, myself included, found it refreshing to know someone who has a strong background in development and has worked closely with many of the ANDE members in the past during his time at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was stepping into the role of USAID Administrator. It was also invigorating to discover that Dr. Shah had sought out the opportunity to be at the ANDE conference, in order to learn from and show his respect for the work the ANDE community is doing.

Needless to say, the talk was much anticipated by ANDE members given the current administration’s heightened focus on entrepreneurship, with some members noting that they feel there is “a change in the wind” and a new “willingness.” These sentiments have been developing as a result of recent activities the current administration has engaged in recently such as, President Obama’s speech on the MDG’s last week at the UN as well as his speech in Cairo, Obama administration’s Summit on Entrepreneurship in April and Dr. Shah’s recent speech on the market-based track at the Clinton Global Initiative, where he recognized market-based solutions, as other ways to reduce poverty in addition to foreign aid.

If done smartly, Dr. Shah believes that USAID’s annual budget of $22 billion can be used to create markets. He believes these and other large-scale markets and governments will drive scale, with scale not just being about money but also how incentives are developed for industry to work in these markets. “At the end of the day, there’s a fundamental understanding that there are only two things that really seriously drive scale: governments or markets,” Shah said. “And we have to figure out how to connect into one of those things if we’re going to scale the types of solutions we know can be transformative for the world’s poorest communities.”

Dr. Shah candidly acknowledged the communities’ perceptions of USAID, largely as a bulky, slow bureaucracy with ossified processes. However, he focused his talk on how he is working to change this with his new staff hires, new partnerships with the Rockefeller Foundation and Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) around monitoring, and Root Capital around agriculture, and new focuses. One of the areas where he thinks USAID will try to change its approach soon is rebuilding capabilities in the science and innovations field. Over the years, USAID has drifted from being the world leader in applying science to development, such as creating oral rehydration therapy, eradicating smallpox with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the widespread vaccination of polio with the CDC. He said we should expect some announcements regarding this refocus in the next six months. Another area of focus Dr. Shah mentioned is for more innovation. Specifically, he plans to increase innovation through the Development Innovation Fund and with the launch of the Innovation Fellows Program next calendar year. As a community, we look forward to seeing how these new focuses develop and increase the role for small and growing businesses.

He wrapped his talk up with a tip of his hat to the ANDE community as an alternative to traditional development practice, and added that he hopes that the entire development field will adopt some of the ANDE communities’ capabilities such as thinking about scale and sustainability up front.

And of course, a post from me is never complete without a note on metrics. In the Q+A, Dr. Shah was asked what he needs from the ANDE community to show that SGB’s are a solution. He responded by asking for assistance in identifying those transactions and partnerships as well as a commitment from the community in providing clearer accounting, a not to the need for careful measurement and comprehensive metrics.

Stayed tuned to our twitter feed for updates on the conference as it continues and look for other tweets using #ANDE2010!