Unlock Aid, New Organization of Innovative Development Leaders, Launching to Make USAID More Effective


September 15, 2021

New Organization Brings Together Innovative Development Leaders in Push for Better Solutions

Unlock Aid Aims to Make U.S. Assistance More Effective

WASHINGTON — Today, a group of prominent, pace-setting development leaders are launching a new organization, Unlock Aid, with the goal of pushing international development agencies to become more results-driven and innovator-friendly. These organizations – located from Silicon Valley to Nairobi – are banding together to take their agenda to the Biden Administration and to Congress to drive forward a set of reforms that are essential to meeting 21st-century challenges, such as climate change and pandemic response.

As its first act, Unlock Aid’s members have sent a letter to USAID Administrator Samantha Power, urging her to undertake steps that will attract the world’s best innovators to work with the United States’ premier development agency – something that doesn’t happen enough now. The letter reads in part: “To meet the challenges of the 21st century, USAID needs to attract the world’s best innovators, both inside and outside of the agency, and creating the conditions for this to happen will require hard work, policy changes, and leadership. Consider Unlock Aid a partner in these efforts.” The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Unlock Aid is comprised of 20 CEOs and representatives from some of the world’s most innovative development organizations. Its Advisory Board includes Sonal Shah, Ambassador John Simon, Minister Gyude Moore, Walter Kerr, Maeve Magner, and Maura O’Neill.

Here’s what some Unlock Aid members had to say about why they’ve joined this effort:

  • “This coalition of high-impact and transformative technology firms brings together the ideas that USAID and international development as a whole strives for: innovation at scale, private sector engagement, and resilient solutions to development challenges. Fraym is proud to be amongst the founding members of the group.” — Ben Leo, Co-Founder & CEO, Fraym

  • “USAID historic leadership in improving lives of people globally and Ambassador Power’s consistent and bold clarion call for action throughout her career is the perfect mash-up for taking the next step that Unlock Aid calls for. It will unleash the world’s innovators to drive faster, cheaper, better results for all.” — Advisory Board Member Maura O’Neill, former Chief Innovation Officer at USAID

  • “To have a shot at solving some of the existential problems ahead, international development agencies have to find ways to innovate, source and scale proven ideas, and put results over inputs.” — Advisory Board Member W. Gyude Moore, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and Liberia’s former Minister for Public Works

  • “The organizations involved with Unlock Aid offer high impact, cost-effective alternatives to traditional aid delivery models. Parsyl is excited to join forces with so many other companies who are pioneering new technologies and sustainable business models to address health and poverty around the world.” — Ben Hubbard, Co-Founder and CEO of Parsyl

  • “A change will only happen if we engage in constructive and honest dialogue between governments, ‘Big Dev’, and innovative companies. We look forward to having that dialogue and are proud to be founding members of Unlock Aid.” — Steffen Tengesdal, CEO of BAO Systems

  • “Numerous private sector companies and innovators stand ready to support USAID and other international development agencies as they seek to combat pandemics, climate change, and extreme poverty. Many even bring outside investment to the table. Changing the rules and incentives that handicap these agencies can unlock this expertise and funding. Premise is proud to support this effort.” — Maury Blackman, President and CEO of Premise Data

  • “Zipline was founded on the belief that technology can solve some of the world’s most pressing development challenges. We are ready to work with USAID and other agencies to transform the sector to become far more focused on leveraging innovation and prioritizing solutions that deliver results.” — Keller Rinaudo, Co-Founder and CEO of Zipline

  • “As the world’s largest funder of development assistance, the United States Government cannot afford to disregard the powerful innovations the private sector can bring to solving some of the world’s most intractable problems.” — Advisory Board Member John Simon, US Ambassador (retired) to the African Union and former Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

  • “With a visionary leader like Samantha Power at the helm of the world’s largest development agency, we have an unprecedented opportunity to meet today’s global crises. Zenysis is proud to join other sector innovators to co-found Unlock Aid to help bring far more innovation and results to international development.” — Sara Pacqué-Margolis, Vice President for Growth, Zenysis

For more information, please contact Unlock Aid Co-Founder and Advisory Board Member Walter Kerr at [email protected] or Unlock Aid Co-Founder and Interim Executive Director Macon Phillips at [email protected].

Text of letter from Unlock Aid to USAID Administrator Samatha Power:


Administrator Samantha Power

United States Agency for International Development

Washington, DC


September 15, 2021

Dear Administrator Power,

Congratulations on your appointment as USAID Administrator. President Biden made an excellent choice by selecting someone with your experience and vision to lead America’s premier development agency in this difficult time.

We are writing to introduce Unlock Aid, a group of pace-setting innovators who have come together to catalyze collective action and drive change in innovation within global development. Unlock Aid was created to unleash fully the power, creativity and speed of experienced innovators in development, helping to shape the market and drive faster, more sustainable and less expensive outcomes at scale. We express our commitment to USAID’s success and look forward to partnering with you to transform USAID into one of the most results-oriented, innovative aid agencies in the world.

In June, you put your finger on a systematic, longstanding challenge that, “throughout much of USAID’s history, a majority of projects have been awarded to the same select group of large contractors – a reality that holds back healthy competition [and] limits our exposure to new approaches…”

We agree. Who USAID works with is deeply connected to how it defines needs and gets the job done. When it comes to delivering essential medicines, predicting future disease, tracking mass migration, and responding to climate change, the world’s largest development agency should be applying methods that have driven private sector innovation and use new technologies and solutions that can be implemented at a global scale. There are examples of USAID doing just that, but sadly they are not common enough or the norm.

For example, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, instead of using unreliable and time-consuming modes of transportation for the last-mile distribution of vaccines, USAID could make greater use of new and proven technologies, such as autonomous drones, that can deliver life-saving goods more quickly and reliably. Building on the lessons of HealthCare.gov, the agency could set aside multi-year software development projects in favor of suppliers who can deploy cutting-edge, off-the-shelf software to support health ministries today. Rather than take a “ship and pray” approach to global health supply chains, USAID could utilize better data and technology to improve cold chains and protect the quality of life-saving commodities.

To meet the challenges of the 21st century, USAID needs to attract the world’s best innovators, both inside and outside of the agency, and creating the conditions for this to happen will require hard work, policy changes, and leadership. Consider Unlock Aid a partner in these efforts.

We stand ready to work with you and allies in Congress to help the agency catalyze an era of innovation in global development. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss the way forward, as well as to illustrate how our ideas can hasten agency initiatives to promote more locally-led development solutions.

With your bold and determined leadership, USAID can become the enviable model for those looking to drive more innovative and enduring outcomes for prosperity, health, safety, and justice in the countries you operate. We look forward to working with you to realize this ambitious vision.


  • Eugene Kweku Boadu, Director for Corporate Affairs, mPedigree

  • Joanna Bichsel, CEO, Kasha

  • Maury Blackman, President and CEO, Premise Data

  • Nicolas de Borman, CEO, Bluesquare

  • Karen Byrnes, Head of Operations and Impact, Atlas AI

  • Jacqueline Edwards, CEO, Medic

  • Benjamin Thelonious Fels, Founder and CEO, macro eyes

  • Ben Hubbard, Co-Founder and CEO, Parsyl

  • Walter Kerr, Unlock Aid Advisory Board Member

  • Ben Leo, CEO, Fraym

  • Maeve Magner, Unlock Aid Advisory Board Member

  • Minister Gyude Moore, Unlock Aid Advisory Board Member

  • Maura O’Neill, Unlock Aid Advisory Board Member

  • Toby Norman, Co-Founder and CEO, Simprints

  • Keller Rinaudo, Co-Founder and CEO, Zipline

  • Jonathan Stambolis, Co-Founder and CEO, Zenysis Technologies

  • Shamit Shah, Founder and Managing Director, Freight in Time

  • Sonal Shah, Unlock Aid Advisory Board Member

  • Ambassador John Simon, Unlock Aid Advisory Board Member

  • Steffen Tengesdal, CEO, BAO Systems

  • Macon Phillips, Unlock Aid Interim Executive Director

We’re building a movement to reimagine the future of global development

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