Scan the headlines or spin the globe and you’ll find countries enduring horrific human conditions – hunger and poverty, disease, violence, crippling economies, and natural disasters. Too often, the stories on the front page focus on all that’s wrong in the world and what’s not working, even though there are countless inspiring examples of remarkable development impact in countries around the world.

A driving force behind these successes are America’s businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), forging partnerships with the federal government to discover, test, and scale innovative solutions to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges. Together these collaborations tell an incredible story of how American ingenuity can transcend boundaries and save lives around the world.

As president and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC,) and an advocate of international development assistance for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen first-hand the impact America’s investment in these programs are making in countries facing extreme poverty. In South Sudan and Tanzania, I had the privilege of meeting amazing diplomats and development experts in the field and had the chance to witness the invaluable work our coalition members do every day. What is clear to me – whether in Africa or around the world – is that U.S. investments in global development thrive most when we they tap the collective expertise of businesses, governments and civil society.

Take the global water crisis, for example. More than 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and approximately 2.5 billion don’t have adequate sanitation, making billions vulnerable to disease and other development challenges. On average, 30,000 people—90 percent under age five—die each week from preventable diseases caused by dirty water, often transported home in heavy, contaminated containers.

Two Ohioan companies, Grief, Inc and Impact Economics, partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Clinton Global Initiative, and Habitat for Humanity International to engineer a water backpack to ease the difficulty of transporting water. Also known as PackH2O™, the pouch is a light-weight, self-sanitizing backpack that holds water and offers relief to women and children who often bear the burden of carrying water home. Over 100,000 backpacks have reached women, children, and men in more than 25 countries through this unique partnership.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Massachusetts startup company, Sanergy, designed a low-cost sanitation solution called Fresh Life Toilets to turn waste into energy, a much needed solution to help combat the deadly sanitation crisis particularly acute in slums. Using a USAID Development Innovations Venture grant, Sanergy created the stand-alone concrete unit, run by local entrepreneurs to collect waste, convert it into organic fertilizer, and sell it to local farmers in Kenya. As of June 2014, 425 of Sanergy’s Fresh Life Toilets are now operated by 215 local entrepreneurs and are seeing results with more than 2,500 metric tons of waste removed from the Mukuru slum in Nairobi, Kenya – creating jobs and profits both in Kenya and Massachusetts.

The Coca-Cola Company has long been a leader on the cutting edge of these innovative partnerships. Take its solar-powered kiosk called EKOCENTER, delivering safe drinking water and other necessities to communities in need. By partnering with the IDB—also funded by the U.S. International Affairs Budget -- several American companies, and an NGO called TechnoServe, the EKOCENTERs will deliver approximately 500 million liters of safe drinking water by 2015, creating jobs in rural and developing communities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

These innovations are just a sample of some of the finest breakthrough solutions meeting the needs of the world’s poorest. From clean water to food security and disease prevention, these multi-sector collaborations are changing the face of global development. 

Over the last year, USGLC has traveled across the country to find some of the most effective programs making a difference not just overseas, but here at home in collaboration with international affairs agencies. I encourage you to take a look at the stories of innovation we uncovered.

Using a creative approach to address current and future challenges, these powerful public-private collaborations are creating jobs and economic opportunity, all while revolutionizing every-day life for millions of people around the world. These homegrown, innovative solutions offer a refreshing reminder that making a difference is all within reach.

Read about four innovations featured in the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition's Innovations in Smart Power report. 




Liz Schrayer

Liz Schrayer serves as President and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), a broad-based coalition of over 400 businesses and NGOs that supports a smart power foreign policy. Ms. Schrayer currently serves on USAID’s Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid (ACFVA), as well as several advisory boards and committees for the University of Michigan including the Ford School of Public Policy, George Washington University, and Lockheed Martin.