Accelerating Innovation, Performance, and Impact at USAID

Authors: Ann Mei Chang


The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) tackles some of the toughest challenges in some of the toughest places on earth, including fighting global pandemics, growing economic prosperity, strengthening democratic institutions, and providing humanitarian relief. USAID plays an important role in addressing global development problems that initially lack effective, scalable, and sustainable solutions. Yet USAID’s activities allow little room for the risk taking or iteration needed to drive significant improvements and encourage disruptive new ideas, with most programs implemented through detailed plans with rigid designs.

Imagine if the pace of progress for global development could match the breakneck pace of advances in the tech sector. The next administration should assess where current USAID interventions are inadequately meeting global need, applying best practices from innovation to improve programs accordingly. This will include shifting to outcomes-based performance metrics, dedicating budget for experimentation, establishing incentives that encourage risk-taking, linking payments with outcomes, and conducting ex-post evaluations of scale and sustainability.

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About the Author

Ann Mei Chang is the author of Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good. Previously, Ann Mei served at USAID as the Chief Innovation Officer and first Executive Director of the US Global Development Lab. She has also served as Chief Innovation Officer for Pete for America, Chief Innovation Officer at Mercy Corps, and Senior Advisor for Women and Technology at the U.S. Department of State. Prior to her pivot to the public and social sector, Ann Mei was a seasoned technology executive, with more than 20 years’ experience at such leading companies as Google, Apple, and Intuit, as well as at a range of startups.