Wednesday, September 16, 2015

SiliConstitution Avenue

The U.S. Global Development Lab ("the Lab") is the newest bureau at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Lab was created in April 2014 with a two-fold mission. The Lab's first goal is to produce breakthrough development innovations which will reach hundreds of millions of people. Breakthrough innovations are those which can impact millions and be scaled globally such as FutureWater, an drone-based innovation which detects crop stress two weeks earlier than the human eye and communicates to farmers through mobile devices. The Lab's second goal is transform USAID and the international development landscape. 

The two-fold mission makes the Lab an exciting and self-aware workplace. During my 12 weeks, I learned about the Lab's programs which harness Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (STIP) to end poverty. The Lab is bringing the speed, flexibility, and ingenuity of Silicon Valley to the bureaucracy of a Washington, D.C.-based federal agency. For instance, the Lab's new Executive Director, Ann Mei Chang, was a previously a Senior Engingeering Director at Google. The Lab is a place where you find engineers, tech entrepreneurs, and PhD's working alongside Foreign Service Officers, civil servants, and public policy bureaucrats. 

While exciting, the Lab is a complex place to work. The Global Development Lab is a startup, a merger, and a government entity all at the same time. It is a startup at USAID as a new bureau which is neither technical nor regional. It is a merger of pre-existing USAID offices: the Office of Science and Technology, the Global Development Alliances, and the Grand Challenges for Development programs. As a government entity and foreign affairs organization, some bureaucratic hurdles exist such as complex hiring mechanisms, lengthy security clearance processes, and alphabet soup of acronyms. 

The All Lab Retreat. Upper Left: Amna, a fellow intern supported by the International Development Innovation Network, and I get out of the blistering summer sun. Lower Left, Upper Right: All 160 Lab members were split up into teams to play ice-breakers for the morning. I entered a mixed-berry pie into the dessert competition and lost to a banana cream pie. Following lunch there was a water balloon toss. Two of my team members won! In fact, I captured a video of their victory and made it into an animated gif. After showing the gif to a few of my team members, my team lead recommended I send it to be included in the All Lab weekly email bulletin. In the last week of my internship, my animated gif made it into the Lab's weekly email. What a legacy! Lower Right: The All Lab Retreat was held at the estate of one of the Lab managers in Northern Virginia. Alexis previously worked at the United Nations and her husband had an international career with the Royal Air Force. Her house is decorated with interesting art from all around the world.

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