Do we know where to look for a development solution?  At USAID, we commit ourselves daily to finding solutions for the challenges faced by the world’s poor.  We start by listening to the wisdom and needs of the government, community, and local organizations and people.  If a farmer’s crop yields are way below global norms, we conduct trainings to increase farmer capacity and crop adaptability and deploy new technologies for greater harvests and market access.  If sanitation is poor in a community, we incentivize entrepreneurs and communities to build self-sustaining toilets that process waste into fertilizer.  We know which aid organizations have expertise in a particular area, and we have standing relationships with implementers who assist us with our on-the-ground work worldwide.

The gains that development practitioners have accomplished in recent decades are tangible and we should be proud: between 1990 and 2008, the World Bank estimates that the proportion of the world’s population living on less than $1.25 per day fell from 43 percent to 22 percent.  Developing economies grew faster over the past 10 years than in previous decades and faster than high-income economies.  Infant mortality rates have fallen in developing countries from 98 out of 1,000 live births in 1990 to 62 in 2010.

We’ve made great strides in development…but there is so much more to accomplish.  One billion people will still live in extreme poverty by 2015.  Today, girls remain less likely than boys to enroll in and finish their primary school education.  And annual emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise dramatically from higher-income countries and increasingly from low to middle income countries.  Climate extremes are wreaking havoc on our coastlines, communities, and businesses globally.

What we’ve learned is that we need to come up with faster, cheaper solutions that can be more quickly distributed to those in need of assistance.  What’s more, we need to look beyond the usual suspects to find these solutions.

Development projects now incorporate interventions that didn’t exist decades ago: partnerships with multinationals, local financing, social entrepreneurship, and innovative technologies.  What we need to create is an ecosystem of innovation where tools like these can be distributed and implemented in a radically shorter amount of time to achieve real impact for the world’s billions.

To achieve that scale, we have to recognize that solutions come from all sectors; from companies and organizations numbering from one person to tens of thousands; and from people from wildly different backgrounds.  Good ideas don’t only come from the halls of development agencies in DC, London, and Nairobi.  They come from everywhere—corporate boardrooms, a parent’s garage, a one-woman enterprise in Dhaka, or a doctor in Detroit.

As Chief Innovation Officer at USAID, my job is to help lead the effort to hunt these solutions down in unexpected places, solutions that may be the next big breakthrough in development.  We keep our eyes open to innovation, and once we find them, we help scale these solutions in the places where they’re most needed.  Our Development Innovation Ventures team is spectacular at using the venture funding model to constantly seek and scale low-cost solutions in order to identify business ideas that could be true game changers.

USAID is also working with nontraditional partners to source development solutions from unexpected places. We partner with Fortune 500 companies to increase chickpea production in Ethiopia; we work with mobile phone operators in Bangladesh to send pregnancy-related SMS messages for expectant mothers; and we work with local enterprises that franchise products like low-cost toilets that encourage entrepreneurship and improve sanitation within Kenyan slums.

Our fierce drive to think differently is why I’m thrilled about the USAID-Skoll Innovation Investment Alliance. This partnership pairs USAID’s experience in identifying breakthrough innovations and Skoll’s expertise in incubating and scaling the world’s most successful social entrepreneurs. The result: a series of partnerships with game-changing social entrepreneurs who can bring cost-effective and sustainable solutions to scale…at a reduced cost and for maximum development impact.

I’m also excited to talk about Imazon, the first of up to ten organizations that will be supported through the USAID-Skoll partnership.  Last year, Amazon rainforest the size of Rhode Island was destroyed, and annual estimates state that 14 to 20 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation. Although living trees soak up climate-changing CO2 from the atmosphere, deforestation undermines this through the massive razing of forests. These devastating effects remind us that we need to act now and slow this destruction.

Using the latest mapping technology and satellite imagery, Imazon helps local Brazilian governments track, identify and stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon. By working with Imazon, the Brazilian county of Paragominas was able to reduce deforestation within its borders by 92 percent.  These are the kind of results we need to scale and fast.  With the support of USAID and Skoll, Imazon will work to bring its monitoring systems to local levels and will support the state of Para to enable municipalities to work with individual landholders.  Imazon could help reduce deforestation, one tree at a time.

Imazon’s work complements what USAID is doing with the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020), a public-private partnership between the U.S. government and the Consumer Goods Forum, a consortium of over 400 companies that represent over $3 trillion in annual sales.  Together, we are working on individual and combined initiatives that reduce deforestation in key commodities including palm oil, soy, beef, paper, and pulp.

Working with Fortune 500 companies hasn’t always been a typical development solution, but through these public-private partnerships, USAID is able to leverage resources, expertise, and technologies.  These partnerships, built on mutual interest, have helped USAID to work towards immense scale and impact that neither we nor the companies could have accomplished alone.

Silicon Valley and the U.S. does not hold the monopoly on innovation; the work done by organizations like Imazon only confirms that there are many more potential solutions that are ready to be discovered throughout the world.  Real change doesn’t come from dictating a known solution and measuring an expected result – change comes from collaborating with others whose brilliance, innovation, and commitment can come from unexpected places.  Let’s keep our eyes open to where this change may come from—I know I am.