Monday, September 21, 2015

Internal Consulting at USAID

During the summer, I was part of a team which served as an innovation program adviser to USAID missions and bureaus. For instance, my team acted as an adviser to the Agency’s Indonesia mission in establishing an open innovation competition to accelerate sustainability in palm oil production. The team was a tight-knit group composed of 8 program leads and assistants in addition to one team lead. One of my team's members was a Foreign Service Officer on "detail" from the Department of State to the Lab for 2 years. 

In addition to learning about innovation programs in international development, I learned equally as much about organizational change. During my internship, the Center for Development Innovation was experiencing strategic realignment. In addition to my team, the Center for Development Innovation is the home of the Higher Education Solutions Network, Development Innovation Ventures, and the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) team. The Center eventually restructured the teams into distinct groups for sourcing innovations, acceleration innovators, and spreading innovation programs in the Agency.

When I first applied for the internship at USAID, I applied to a team named Transition to Scale. The mandate of this team was to accelerate top innovators from all innovation programs such as the Grand Challenges and Development Innovation Ventures. By the time I arrived as an intern, the name had changed to Collective Acceleration Team. This team had a similar mission, however, the team acted more as an internal consultant to USAID missions and bureaus in establishing innovation programs. In the last week of my internship, the name of the team changed to Innovation Design Team. The mission of this team was more focused on disseminating open innovation programming throughout the Agency.

My Scope of Work changed as dynamically as my team's name and mission. Although I submitted a joint Scope of Work between the Collective Acceleration Team and the International Development Innovation Network before my internship began, the team's needs had changed substantially by the time I arrived. I worked on three primary tasks during my internship.
  • I researched and wrote a best-practices guide to support innovation programs at the Agency. In other words, my knowledge product was designed for the use of Agency Missions and innovation programs that composed the Agency's pipeline. The pipeline is comprised of various programs such as Grand Challenge for Development winners, Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) awardees, and Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) projects. I researched and curated a list of questions for innovators to complete which would lead innovation programs to a more more targeted provision of acceleration services. Acceleration services consist of pro-bono legal advice, workshops on business modeling, public relations support with the placement of interviews and press releases, capacity building on international financial management and reporting, etc.
  • I was assigned to help the Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development. Through this assignment, I was able to gain a much more specific and granular perspective of the Lab's innovators. I saw first-hand how my team's program lead worked with a Technical Assistance Facility, external to USAID, to provide acceleration services to grantees. These grantees were selected from a competition which aimed to source and accelerate innovations at the water-agricultural production nexus. SWFF needed someone to complete the Initial Environmental Evaluations for four innovators. I researched the grantees innovations and projects, analyzed the potential environmental risks of their grants, and wrote location profiles on the places where their projects would take place.
  • Throughout my internship, I copy edited and sourced 13 interviews with innovation programs in the Agency's pipeline, in other words 8 Higher Education Solutions Network Labs, 4 Grand Challenges for Development, and Development Innovation Ventures. My team designed this document to build mutual understanding between innovation programs which were sometimes ironically siloed in their thinking and implementing. This was an amazing opportunity for me to learn about the different innovation programs in the Agency's pipeline and their various theories of change.

Top: My team and I celebrating a team members birthday at a delicious Salvadorian restaurant. Middle Left: The Center for Development Innovation unites for a "sad hour" to bid good bye to one of my team's members who was leaving the Agency to pursue a PhD in Political Science from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bottom Left: My team and I sharing lunch together at the All Lab Retreat. The gentleman sitting to the far right is a Presidential Management Fellow who moved on from my team to the Department of the Interior. I observed that D.C. has a culture where everyone is constantly on the lookout for better career opportunities. In my opinion, sometimes this can make knowledge management and continuity difficult. Middle Right: Some members of my team meet up after work for pub trivia near the Ronald Reagan Building. Bottom Right: My team shares a BBQ meal at our team lead's home.

No comments:

Post a Comment