2013 DevelopmentXChange

Entering the Marketplace at last week’s third annual Development XChange was like wandering into some sort of bizarre, technological jungle. With baby monitors beeping, videos of live births streaming, and manikins staring at you from around every corner, this science fair of life-saving innovations felt more like something from Star Trek than a global development conference. Yet looking at the excited faces of the 53 finalists and 39 current innovators that stood close to their booths, rattling away about their ideas to the hundreds of people who came to talk with them last week, you could see that for them this was no science fiction tale, but very much the daily, passionate reality that drove their work and lives.

Last week an amazing community of innovators gathered at the third annual Saving Lives at Birth Development Exchange. They came together from across the globe to participate in three days of workshops, networking, and community building. On Wednesday July 31st, the final day of the XChange, their innovations were shown to the world in an open Marketplace, and they were celebrated in a high-level Forum, which featured Ted-like talks and keynote speeches from USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice gave a passionate speech that recalled her own experiences with childbirth, and lamenting the position of the impoverished mother in rural Africa who has no access to modern comforts or medicine to aide her in the process. In the end she called for increased effort to be made towards harnessing the power of progress to make deliberate positive change for mothers like those who need it most around the world: “We live in an era of furious change and unlimited technological potential.  So we can’t just keep doing the same things the way they’ve been done before… [Those mothers] cannot wait for change to happen by chance or accident. They need students and designers, researchers and entrepreneurs like you to lead the change.”

At the end of the event the award nominees for this third round of grants were announced. There were smiles and hugs all around, and even those who came away without funding did not seem too disheartened. “Thank you for the all of your energy,” one innovator said as she hugged the USAID staff goodbye, “This was a truly a wonderful and inspiring event.” The knowledge they gained and the connections they made will not leave these innovators after their time in DC, and so the larger goal of Saving Lives a Birth is achieved as this community grows and inspires each other to keep looking for those ideas, big or small, that could save millions of lives. 

Written by: Claire Perkins