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Research for Development: How USAID is Doing It (Perspectives From A Summer Internship)

Published: 3 years ago | 0 comments

By Gabriela Asturas
This post was originally published on the DukeSEAD blog.

I boarded a plane to Bogotá, Colombia on Tuesday October 3rd, 2017. I was selected to attend the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) global engagement meeting sponsored by the Research Councils UK. Around 120 people from Colombia, the UK, and around the world met to discuss how we can collaborate on cutting edge research to tackle the sustainable development goals. The theme was clear—addressing the problems faced by developing countries is a global effort and building partnerships is essential. These partnerships are an exchange to build research capacity in developing countries and acquire the ability to reframe the problem with cultural competence, a perspective brought in by the local researchers.

This meeting was an opportunity to represent the Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program at the U.S. Global Development Lab of USAID. My internship with PEER lasted twelve weeks. I measured the impact of the PEER health research programs across the world on policy, programs, and sustainable development. The aim was to quantify and advocate for the importance of science in development.

Three lessons I learned while working at USAID:

1. Science is fun.
Science has the potential to impact a person, community, region,  and country. Research findings can be implemented into development programs, government national programs, and adopted into policy. This is possible when a research protocol is designed to tackle a problem that the potential beneficiaries and country officials perceive as a problem.

2. Development is local.
In order to implement research findings in the context where the research was done, it is essential to involve local stakeholders in the process. It is more efficient to work with local scientists because oftentimes they already have connections with local public and private entities. We found that research led by a local scientist with existing ties to a government entity will more likely be adopted because its relevance will be recognized. Local scientists understand how to leverage local resources and the cultural context.

3. USAID, like development, adapts. 
I worked at USAID during a period of transition—a new administrator was appointed and the process of redesign was beginning. The new administration priorities started to shape the organization, the bureaus that were prioritized, and the budget allocation. The U.S. Global Development Lab is a young bureau, launched in 2014, under the Obama administration. I worked on the PEER program which began in 2011 and is now entering its final 3 years. New mechanisms are being designed that aim to incorporate lessons learned through the experience with PEER and other programs. The PEER team is a group of passionate scientists that want to translate their values of development into the new mechanisms—development is local and the role of research in development is transformative.

After this internship I am going back to Guatemala, my home country. The skills learned from PEER can be directly translated into my work at FUNDEGUA, a Guatemalan nonprofit I co-founded with Duke Global Health professor: Dr. David Boyd. FUNDEGUA works to close the gap—between aid and data, programs and communities—by cultivating a local research ecosystem that informs sustainable development.

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