Four Ways Innovators Can Do More with USAID

For many innovators entering new markets, finding partners, and identifying opportunities and resources can be challenging. USAID’s Global Development Lab has documented many cases where USAID implementing partners have provided critical support in these areas to innovators. USAID’s programs on the ground are implemented by a large group of implementing partners including private sector contractors, NGOs, Universities and many others. Innovators should view these implementing partners, who manage billions of dollars of USAID programs, as a potential source of funding, partnership, expertise, market knowledge, and much more.

Now is an ideal time for innovators to collaborate with USAID implementing partners.

“The realities on the ground in many of the countries where USAID works is changing, so the way implementing partners are doing business is changing, which is leading a lot of them to reach out to innovators and new partners to collaborate,” DAI’s Katie Shipley said.

Shipley made her remarks in a webinar, Navigating Partnerships and Procurement Processes with USAID, which was geared toward empowering innovators to more robustly engage with USAID’s programs through implementing partners. Below are four takeaways from the event.

#1 Implementers and Innovators Both Benefit in Partnerships
The sharing of expertise can be a two-way street between USAID implementers and innovators, Shipley said, with smaller innovators often gaining market entry through implementing partners and implementing partners accessing new solutions to development challenges.

Highlighting this point was Jeremy Haldeman from the American Refugee Committee. He said internal restructuring in recent years at ARC has created more opportunities and greater need for partnerships. “A basic function of not being a huge implementing partner, is that we don’t have the capacity – internally – to design-out all new solutions,” he said during the discussion.

“We’re really interested in expanding the pool of people that we’re going to bring to the table to look for new solutions,” Haldeman said.

For Nizam Ahmad, a USAID Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation innovator, three collaborations with USAID implementing partners helped expand the shrimp hatchery he manages in Bangladesh.

Ahmad, Director at MKA Hatchery, recounted how collaborating with USAID implementing partners Fintrac and World Fish provided him with technical assistance and other support in the last few years helped grow the aquatic farm’s innovative, pathogen-free black tiger shrimp output to around 280 million post-larvae shrimp from an earlier capacity of about 30 million. When World Fish’s Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition (AIN) Project in Bangladesh ended, MKA directly hired some of the project employees and continues to serve about 200,000 small-scale farmers across the country. The partnership gave MKA Hatchery the boost it needed to establish itself in the market and build a sustainable business that is increasing the income of thousands of smallholder farmers.

#2 – Use Your Networks and Surf the Web
Meg Karchner from DAI gave the audience of innovators tips on how to identify potential implementing partners for collaboration.

“Don’t limit the question to ‘what are the future opportunities,’” Karchner said. Connecting with implementing partners on potential future business with USAID can take a long time to become a reality. Instead, ask for an introduction to implementing staff working on current, on-going projects. The simple act can help innovators get to real collaboration with implementers more quickly, she said.

Locating prospective implementing partners beyond existing networks can also be a difficult task. Karchner highlighted three online portals innovators can use to track possible implementers and procurement opportunities.

#3 Sell Your Innovation and Aim for Multiple Projects
Selling innovative approaches can help distinguish a proposal or partnership bid aimed at innovators and firms, Karchner said. She pointed out that USAID has been asked to factor in the unique or innovative nature of plans as part of the evaluation criteria.

Karchner suggested it was acceptable for innovators to pitch more than one implementing partner who may be bidding on a USAID solicitation.

“If you have an innovation that you think will really augment the development impact of the project, go ahead and pitch the project to multiple firms [who will be bidding]. Some of them might recognize that there’s value in having you even if you’re not exclusively on a bid,” she said.

It is important for innovators to state their pitches are not exclusive, Karchner stated.

(See Karchner’s webinar for additional details about USAID’s procurement processes and timetables)

#4 – USAID Acceleration Support with Non-Financial Resources
USAID is testing the effectiveness of non-financial support, in the form of technical assistance, to a limited number of grantees, said Grace Kim, Senior Advisor with USAID’s Applied Innovation & Acceleration team. Some examples of technical assistance include consulting support to identify key business challenges, market expansion strategy and operations strategy. The goal of providing technical assistance is to strengthen the grantee organization’s core business and preparation for scale.


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Katie Shipley contributed to this article.