Our Impact

Since our founding in 2021, Unlock Aid has delivered for the social innovator community, influencing hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. federal spending for global development and creating new pathways to scale the most effective solutions in global development.But this is just the beginning. Now is the time to pass the Global Innovation Agenda. But this is just the beginning. Now is the time to pass the Global Innovation Agenda.

May 2021

We started as a research project

Unlock Aid started by interviewing 70+ organizations to identify the biggest barriers that kept them from having a bigger impact in global development. We published our initial findings. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine cited them during a hearing.

September 2021

Unlock Aid was founded

Organizations that participated in our research project pooled their resources and decided to do something about the problems that we identified. You can read the letter we sent to USAID Administrator Samantha Power to announce Unlock Aid. Politico wrote out our arrival.

April 2022

Unlock Aid goes to Washington

We brought dozens of our coalition partners to Capitol Hill to introduce lawmakers to the ‘doers’ and leading social innovators on the front lines of global development. Congress asked: What’s the most ambitious reform agenda you could imagine to change the way the U.S. invests in the world?

Summer 2022

Three Asks for USAID

Unlock Aid published Three Asks for USAID focused on increasing the use of milestone-based pay for results, scaling up innovation, and diversifying USAID’s partner base.

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  • In March 2023, The Biden-Harris Administration unveiled USAID’s new Acquisition and Assistance strategy that will govern how USAID spends more than $100 billion over the next four years. It incorporates Unlock Aid’s top priorities, including to change who USAID works with and how the USAID spends money, including to pay for results. 
  • In January 2023, USAID also announced a Stage 4 program to scale proven innovations borne out of the agency’s Development Innovation Ventures unit.
  • In March 2024, Congress introduced a bill to increase the ability of USAID to bypass the aid industry and work directly with local partners.
August 2022

How would you spend $500 million?

Unlock Aid published Three Asks for USAID focused on increasing the use of milestone-based pay for results, scaling up innovation, and diversifying USAID’s partner base.

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  • The White House adopted one of the 14 moonshots to create a Plant Genome Project. Humans currently depend on just 15 plants to provide almost all of the world’s food. Just as the Human Genome Project has accelerated progress in the War on Cancer, a Plant Genome Project that sequences 7,000+ plant species’ genomes could also unlock plant innovation, spur the growth of the bioeconomy, and accelerate identification of climate-resilient plant varieties to increase global food security.
  • USAID’s DIV unit funded another moonshot proposal focused on expanding Access to Healthcare for All. This program takes the primary point of care out of hospitals directly to pharmacies, private clinics, and other places where consumers work and live.
  • The U.S. Development Finance Corporation, UBS, and Grand Challenges Canada provided $20 million for a third moonshot focused on creating Oxygen as a Utility.
December 2022

Congress acts on Unlock Aid’s recommendations

In December, Congress invited Unlock Aid to testify about how to modernize the U.S. approach to global development. We published our 2023 policy platform, sourcing inputs from more than 100 innovators.

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  • Lawmakers passed spending legislation to increase global development innovation investments by 50 percent.
  • Representatives Joaquin Castro (D-TX) Young Kim (R-CA) introduced the bi-partisan Fostering Innovation in Global Development Act (FIGDA). 2023
February 2023

Embrace transparency. Stop bid candy

Along with other coalitions like NEAR, CIVICUS, and the Project on Government Oversight, Unlock Aid leads a campaign to pressure USAID to embrace transparency and crack down on its biggest contractors that take advantage of local organizations. More than 100 organizations and coalitions that collectively represent more than 15,000 groups from around the world sign our joint letter to USAID Administrator Samantha Power.

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  • In March, President Biden signed a law that requires USAID to address this issue, requiring both research to understand the scale of the "bid candy" problem and instructions to stand up data systems to better track funding flows to smaller groups.
  • USAID is also now taking steps to acknowledge and address this issue. According to an internal June 2023 USAID report, the agency noted that "international partners undermine USAID’s localization agenda by registering themselves locally and citing local partners in proposals to which they ultimately do not allocate funds during implementation.”
April 2023

Challenging USAID’s largest-ever $17 billion project

USAID is issuing its largest-ever set of contracts, a $17 billion suite of awards for global health supply chains. Rather than doubling-down on a status quo model that is not working, USAID can instead use these contracts to show that a new way to invest in global development is possible. We published what a different model can look like.

May 2023

Media narrative changing

Major media starts writing about the need to reform U.S. foreign aid. Columnist Matt Yglesias provides a glowing review of Unlock Aid’s policy platform. Other publications like Vox and the Economist write about Unlock Aid’s campaign for reform.

September 2023

Unlock Aid Global Listening Tour kicks off: New Principles for Global Development

If the U.S. could transform its approach to global development, what would it do differently? That’s the question we asked more than 200 leaders from the diaspora, business, investment, faith, social enterprise, and humanitarian communities, both in the United States and around the world, as part of a 6-month listening tour. In February 2024, we produced this report summarizing the recommendations we heard. Lawmakers have since taken an interest and are now translating these ideas into legislative text.

December 2023

Changing $1 trillion in federal spending

The White House announces its plans to “fundamentally rewrite” federal grant rules to make it easier for community organizations and others to access federal dollars.

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  • Many of Unlock Aid’s earliest proposals are included in the changes. Unlock Aid sends additional recommendations to the White House on what else it can do and encourages its grassroots community to contact President Biden. Approximately 5 percent of all submissions the White House receives come from Unlock Aid partners.
March 2022

Follow the Money in U.S. Foreign Aid

We published a microsite to show there’s not much ‘foreign’ about foreign aid. Most of it gets channeled to a handful of aid industry insiders that have a questionable record of impact, that keep most of the money for themselves rather than invest in local communities, and can cause more harm than good, including by displacing local markets, causing brain drain, and perpetuating legacies of paternalism and colonialism.

March 2024

President Biden signs $1.2 trillion spending law

This bill includes many provisions the Unlock Aid community fought for, including provisions to shift funding to local partners, scale funding for proven innovations, change the way the U.S. invests in global health supply chains, and crack down on aid industry players that take advantage of smaller organizations and local communities. In March, Congress also introduces the Locally-Led Development and Humanitarian Act.

Now is the time

Counterintuitive it may sound amid this moment of political division, we need to be ambitious (and idealistic) again. We often hear about what we can’t do, what we won’t do. It’s time for a new way. Now is the time to pass the Global Innovation Agenda.

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