The federal government has tapped Duke to join a select team of universities to address global development issues using innovative research approaches.
The U.S. Agency for International Development will fund Duke with $10 million as an inaugural member of the Higher Education Solutions Network, announced today in Washington. Duke was selected out of nearly 500 applicants after submitting a proposal to alleviate extreme poverty and health disparities. HESN funds an initial group of seven institutions of higher learning, with plans for more universities to join later on.
Duke’s program focuses on global health entrepreneurship, and will fund collaborative activity with students and faculty specializing in business, global health and health care delivery.
“We really do believe it is now possible to end extreme poverty and that doing so will help us as a nation to be more secure and create economic opportunities at home. We believe science, technology and innovation can be a core driver,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said in a teleconference Thursday.
Each of the seven schools will pursue an approach to development innovation that is tailored to their particular strengths. Duke’s branch of the network, known as the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke, will engage in social entrepreneurship with a focus on global health, to create improved models of health service delivery at low cost to disadvantaged populations, Shah said.
Many Duke programs will come together to form SEAD, including faculty and students at the Fuqua School of Business Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, Duke Medicine’s International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery and the Duke Global Health Institute, among others.
Working with universities offers a creative process that would not be found in a conventional government institution, Shah said.
“Often, big federal agencies don’t bring the same youthful creativity that a student group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley or Texas A&M University might bring to the task,” he said.
The SEAD model allows Duke’s participants to bring diverse expertise to the table, said Dr. Victor Dzau, chancellor for health affairs and president and CEO of Duke University Health System. Members from CASE will aid with the business and finance aspects of a project, medical personnel will advise on its health aspects and policy experts will weigh in on what regulations it would need to follow.
“By bringing these people who have great ideas on how to make care better and bringing them together with funding, it increases the chances they will be successful,” Dzau said.
DGHI Director Dr. Michael Merson traveled to Washington, D.C. Thursday to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, USAID leadership and other participating universities about HESN. The national program will be launched in a ceremony Friday afternoon, which Clinton will attend.
Merson said the model for the HESN resembles the relationships NASA has with many university laboratories to develop jet propulsion technology.
“AID feels that to have the impact it wants to have, it needs to build partnerships with universities in developing and scaling discoveries that can make a difference,” Merson said.
The details of how the participating schools will interact are still being worked out—the participants met each other for the first time Thursday, Merson said. He noted, though, that each institution will work with the agency and with each other, and that there was “no question” that there would be active communication.
Duke will be working with universities across the nation, and one across the Atlantic, Shah said. MIT will focus on design and technology and UC Berkeley will develop a new discipline of development science, combining math, science and engineering coursework with research and applied programming. Makerere University in Uganda, which has partnered with Duke on global health programs in the past, will develop online coursework and an interdisciplinary approach to tackling hunger and famine. Texas A&M will study improving agricultural productivity in conflict zones. Michigan State University will explore the impact of population growth and climate change on food production and develop new crops that are climate resistant and improve nutrition around world. The College of William and Mary will work with geospatial data to identify critical areas, such as where malaria is likely to be prevalent and where crop yields will be high or low.
Shah emphasized the startup nature of the HESN mission. The USAID Development Innovation Ventures Fund already supports entrepreneurs, but it looks for existing technologies. The HESN, on the other hand, will look for innovative ideas that, although they may have less certainty of success, offer the possibility of generating breakthrough technologies.
The funding for the network makes up less than 2 percent of the agency’s total investment around the world, Shah noted, adding that it was worthwhile to invest a very small portion of the budget in innovation and research.
Duke hopes to receive the grant by the end of the month and will start the project by early 2013 at the latest, Merson added.
USAID’s choice of Duke to join the HESN signals a “notable vote of confidence” in the University’s activities in global health, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.
“Ultimately, they’re not giving a grant to Duke to make Duke a better place. USAID is doing this because it will advance the priorities of the agency and the country and we’re active participants in that, and in turn it will make Duke a better place,” he said.