By Cera Southerland and staff reports
Texas A&M University has been selected by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to be a partner in its new Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) — a groundbreaking endeavor designed to develop innovative solutions to global development challenges.
“We’re [USAID] launching a major development partnership with Texas A&M with a special focus on improving agricultural performance and productivity in conflict zones in particular,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. “Texas A&M has been a leader in agricultural development for decades and we’re eager to build on that record of success.”
Texas A&M and six other top U.S. and foreign universities were selected as lead HESN partners in a five-year program following what has been called a “rigorous process,” with approximately 500 institutions having been under consideration. Each of the lead universities will receive multi-million-dollar funding.
Each university will establish a “development lab” that will work with USAID’s field mission experts and Washington staff to apply science and technology to define and solve key problems in areas such as global health, food security and chronic conflict, officials said. These development labs will initiate a global network to engage not only academics and students, but also a broader community around the world.
The Texas A&M HESN activities will be led by the H. G. Buffett Foundation Chair on Conflict & Development in the Department of Agricultural Economics, the Bush School of Government and Public Service, and the School of Rural Public Health in the Texas A&M Health Science Center. Those three entries will be charged with creating the Texas A&M development lab that will be known as the Center on Conflict and Development (C&D Center).
The C&D Center will “study the intersection between poverty, conflict and food insecurity to describe what has worked in the past and plan the future to improve conditions in fragile and conflict-affected countries,” according to center documentation. “The C&D Center will catalyze development results for these communities by providing new data, expertise, and policy advice derived from the inter-relationships of conflict, poverty, governance and development assistance, ultimately leading to a reduction in and prevention of conflict.”
“Having a center that is focused on the innovations that can be applied to agriculture in conflict environments is really adding a tool to the toolbox we have to bring peace to places where we know it is in our national security interest to do so,” Shah said.
In a conference call on Wednesday Shah highlighted the different programs that Texas A&M is involved in, including agricultural work in Afghanistan. Texas A&M works to improve the agricultural productivity in Afghanistan so that it may remain stable and increasingly successful as an independent country.
“In addition to hosting the Borlaug fellowship programs that train agricultural scientists around the world, Texas A&M has researchers traveling abroad pursuing join projects to do everything from reducing the toxin levels that can accumulate in rice and corn in Africa to improving wheat yields and agricultural performance in Afghanistan,” Shah said.
Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp and Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin joined in applauding the institution’s selection to have a key role in the new USAID program.
“This national award is a tremendous recognition of our unique talents and ability to collaborate toward meaningful solutions to today’s challenges,” Sharp stated.
“It’s a significant honor to be among the select few universities invited to participate in this far-reaching USAID program that stands to help the United States provide assistance to millions of needy people around the world,” Loftin said. “We are proud of our decades-long record of working with USAID and look forward to continuing, and expanding, such service — building on the legacy of Norman Borlaug, with whom we had such rewarding a relationship through his service on our faculty.”
C&D Center Director Edwin Price cited the collaborative aspect of the endeavor: “Colleagues and I from the Bush School, School of Rural Public Heath, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are extremely pleased with this opportunity to build on the idea we began discussing five years ago. It is a perfect expression of what we can do working across disciplines to address the problems of poverty, development, and conflict in service to our nation and partners around the world. We are very thankful for the support we have received for this work from the Department of Agricultural Economic, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and now USAID.”
The other institutions selected for HESN lead partnerships are: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California at Berkeley, Michigan State University, Duke University, College of William & Mary, and Makerere University in Uganda.
USAID officials said the agency is renewing its dedication to supporting the use of science and technology to address global development challenges, and these partnerships will leverage the intellectual power and passion of academic leaders, faculty and students. The USAID officials added that they are “proud to partner with these institutions and their students, faculty, and staff – together we can lead the global development community by creating more results-driven, effective, efficient, cost effective, and accessible development solutions.”
“The Higher Education Solutions Network is the latest step in USAID’s efforts to harness the best ideas from the academic and scientific community and young people worldwide to foster transformational progress in development,” explained Shah. “Through this network of Development Labs, 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.”
The network represents a new era of development by tapping research institutions and students to catalyze global action, supporting the culture of entrepreneurship, and fostering multifaceted approaches to development, the USAID administrator explained, adding that through the network, these partnerships will engage the next generation of development professionals while guiding USAID’s programs.
In addition to the seven lead universities, the network currently consists of 22 additional funded, and 76 non-funded partners in the U.S. and overseas. For every $10 of USAID funding, the universities and their partners contributed an additional $6.60 toward the network. But these seven development labs are just the beginning, USAID official’s note. They say the network “will become a powerful, sustainable development network capable of overcoming barriers, bridging critical gaps, and leveraging the ability of higher education institutions to operate effectively in a rapidly changing world.”
The development labs will establish technology hubs and knowledge centers across all geographic regions to advance global research and development, they add. With hundreds of thousands of U.S. and international faculty and students engaged, the development labs will work to fully understand challenges to development, test new technologies, apply revolutionary solutions to global development problems, and scale up these new technologies.
Whether building local resilience to development challenges, transforming economic and political systems, or inventing ways to improve quality of life, the HESN network will do development differently, USAID officials emphasize.
For more information about Texas A&M’s C&D Center, go to condevcenter.org/.
Cera Southerland, ’13, is an agricultural communications and journalism student. She is chief student leader of IAAS and also serves as an Ambassador and Mentor for Study Abroad.