Published in The Australian

WITH so many pressing needs around the world, governments and non-profit organisations have a responsibility to use foreign aid dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible, to create the best outcomes for the greatest number of people.

Doing that requires finding ­innovative new approaches to stubborn challenges — an idea that lies at the heart of an ambitious initiative that we will be helping to guide, called the innovationXchange, that’s being launched today by the Australian government.

The $140 million program will introduce new ideas to Australia’s aid program in a number of ­strategic areas, such as good governance, gender equality, ­education, food security and ocean health — with a focus on Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The innovatio­nXchange will bring together leaders from governments, non-government organisations and business to lend their insights into how we can tackle big challenges more ­effectively.

Government doesn’t have all the answers, and the private sector remains the single most powerful engine for spurring growth and raising living standards. When government works with non-profits and the private sector, it can produce far larger public benefits than it could if working alone.

Collaboration will be at the heart of the innovationXchange, which aims to bring more ­experimentation to Australia’s foreign aid program.

Governments tend to be risk-averse, because both political and actual capital are always at a premium. But we can lower the risks that come with innovation by using data to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable for results.

Data allows us to see what’s working so that we can spread ­effective measures. Just as importantly, it shows us what isn’t working, so that we can end ineffective ­programs.

However, the lack of data is often a major obstacle for governments and non-profits alike, including on issues of life and death. Consider this: the World Health Organisation estimates that 65 per cent of all deaths worldwide — 35 million each year — go unrecorded. Millions more deaths lack a documented cause. Some governments don’t even have records of births.

Without that data, governments, donors, and NGOs essentially have to guess how to best target their resources to prevent deaths and diseases. Better data allows for better targeting of resources, which can save lives.

Today, in conjunction with the launch of the innovationXchange, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Australian government are launching a new program — called Data for Health — that aims to close the global gap in health data. Over the next four years, the Data for Health partnership we are leading will help low- and middle-income countries gather more accurate and complete health data, including data on births, deaths, and risk factors.

We’ll focus on 20 countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and Latin America, and the program will help implement practices that can be replicated in other countries around the world.

For example: many countries routinely cite “natural causes” and other vague terms as causes of death in their records, which doesn’t provide any useful inform­ation about whether a death was preventable, or how.

We’ll train medical staff to better identify and record causes of death, which will help countries understand why and where people are dying, which will help them take actions that can reduce those causes of death. We’ll also help make high-quality birth and death certificates standard practice in more countries.

Of course, data is only valuable if it’s put to good use — so we’ll also work with governments to integ­rate health data into their public policies.

We have set an ambitious goal: in the next four years, we aim to help collect better health data for more than one billion people in low- and middle-income countries around the world.

To make that possible, together we are committing a total of $US100 million ($130m) to Data for Health over four years. Like Data for Health, all of the ­innovationXchange work will be guided by data, and all will be marked by a willingness to try new approaches to fixing persistent problems.

That combination of creativity and strict accountability can help make Australia’s foreign aid ­program an even greater force for good — and help set an example for how funders around the world can use their resources to improve the greatest number of lives.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555