UC Berkeley awarded $20 million from USAID

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UC Berkeley has been awarded $20 million from the USAID as part of the agency’s new partnership with seven universities.

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UC Berkeley has been awarded $20 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of the agency’s new partnership with seven universities around the world.

The award will fund the creation of the multidisciplinary Development Impact Lab, jointly run by the campus’s Blum Center for Developing Economies and the universitywide Center for Effective Global Action.

The lab will allow for the creation of a new field of research called development engineering, which utilizes engineering to effectively impact poverty, said Ashok Gadgil, a campus professor of civil and environmental engineering who will serve as principal investigator for the program on campus.

“There have been a lot of critiques in the past on foreign aid efficiency,” said Dominic Molinari, a civil and environmental engineering graduate student who was hired in October as a researcher for the initiative. “(The network) rebrands USAID and allows them to more sustainably address poverty rather than simply provide blanket solutions.”

Shankar Sastry, faculty director of the Blum Center and dean of the campus College of Engineering, said the goal of the lab is to promote development that advances social and economic welfare. With the initiative, researchers will put more emphasis on assessing the effects of development solutions, an aspect of poverty alleviation that they say has previously been lacking.

USAID selected UC Berkeley to be part of the network that also includes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University, Texas A&M University and Makerere University in Uganda, among other universities. The network was created to develop collaborative and entrepreneurial solutions to poverty alleviation, according to a Nov. 9 press release announcing the network.

For the next five years, USAID will provide the universities a total of $130 million in research funds. For every $10 from USAID, each university and its partners have agreed to contribute an additional $6.60 to the research, according to the press release.

When USAID administrator Rajiv Shah visited the campus on Oct. 10, he called the Blum Center’s work a “model for a network of development laboratories we’re forming across the country.”

In 2011, UC Berkeley received an initial grant from USAID to begin researching how to take a new approach toward addressing today’s development challenges — providing groundwork for the most recent USAID award.

But UC Berkeley being part of a larger consortium of universities is indicative of a new era in U.S. foreign policy, Gadgil said.

“Through this network … we will recapture the legacy of science, technology, and innovation as core drivers of development — as well as inspire and support the next generation of development leaders,” Shah said in a statement.

Contact Alex Berryhill at [email protected].