USAID chief lauds Blum Center as model in search for global solutions

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) got a close up look Wednesday (Oct. 10) at a handful of student innovations to help fight global poverty, illness and strife during a visit to UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies.

“I think that what Berkeley does is truly genuinely extraordinary,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah enthusiastically after inspecting the displays of five interdisciplinary projects assembled through the Blum Center.

Shah spoke with and asked a host of questions of the students, researchers and faculty advisors from UC Berkeley who are behind the projects that combine technology, innovation, science, new business models and rigorous evaluation to fight global problems.

He told an overflow crowd that gathered later in Sibley Auditorium about USAID’s push for “open source global development,” which capitalizes on the best ideas generated by 21st-century problem solvers ranging from young and imaginative students on college campuses to more experienced leaders in corporate boardrooms.

In doing so, Shah said, the agency is borrowing heavily from “the vision and experience” of the Blum Center’s “world class” efforts to tackle challenging and seemingly intractable problems.

While noting that his primary message for the university community is “please get involved,” Shah commended the Big Ideas @ Berkeley program and the Blum Center’s Global Poverty and Practice minor, both aimed at engaging and supporting the millennial generation of engaged youth. Towards that end, Shah said, the agency has launched the “Fall Semester” website that encourages grant applications and the sharing of still more creative solutions to world problems as well as enables internship applications at USAID and/or its hundreds of partners around the world.

In introductory remarks before Shah’s speech, Richard Blum, founder of the Blum Center, praised Shah’s innovation at USAID in the past three years and for supporting center projects “so we can be of service to our country and the rest of the world.”

The projects Shaw examined at UC Berkeley included:

Smart phone-enabled microscopes to enhance healthcare in rural areas;

A micro-power grid project for rural areas prone to power shortages;

Cheap and portable cell phone towers;

More efficient cook stoves adapted to community needs and culture in Darfur, Ethiopia and Haiti;

And mobile phone projects in Rwanda and Afghanistan that collect data to help track population migration, mobility and delivery of needed services, measure wealth and population density, and identify and reach out to the victims of economic and other shocks.

To read the complete transcript of Shah’s remarks at UC Berkeley, click here.