Development Impact Lab


The Development Impact Lab (DIL) at UC Berkeley harnesses world-class expertise in science, engineering, and economics to maximize the adoption and impact of new technologies in developing regions. The Blum Center founded DIL in 2012 with a $20 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, in collaboration with the Center for Effective Global Action, the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. DIL works to transform the way universities source, design, evaluate, and scale up technologies that have a potential for breakthrough impact on global challenges. Among DIL’s legacies is the new interdisciplinary field of Development Engineering, which formalizes the use of advanced science and technology to understand and address development problems.

DIL Website

DIL News

Engineering Improvements for the World,” by Lina Nilsson and Shankar Sastry, Washington Post, Oct. 5, 2014

Defining Development Engineering,” by Daniel McGlynn, Berkeley Engineering, Sept. 12, 2014

Toward a New Field of Development Engineering: Linking Technology Design to the Demands of the Poor,” by Lina Nilsson, Temina Madon, and S. Shankar Sastry, Procedia Engineering, 2014

DIL’s Technology Approach

Blum Center Innovation Pathway

Science and technology can drive major breakthroughs in international development, but social and economic barriers—such as market failures and weak institutions—sometimes prevent potentially transformative innovations from reaching the world’s poor. The Development Impact Lab brings together world-class science, engineering, and economics to change the way new technologies for development are designed, evaluated, and scaled to reach the people who need them. DIL’s approach to technology emphasizes the entire lifecycle of innovation, including: needs assessment and scientific R&D; product design and prototyping; development of business, social, and economic models; impact assessment; and finally, knowledge dissemination and scaling of successful programs and technologies. As of 2014, 90 DIL innovations are being tested and scaled in 30 countries, involving more than 500 interdisciplinary students, and over 400 industry, government, and social sector experts. DIL innovations include:

Community Cellular Networks
Community Cellular Networks

This “network-in-a-box” cell phone system, owned and operated by local communities, is targeted to the more than 1 billion people worldwide who live beyond the reach of cellular networks. The first deployment in rural Papua, Indonesia in February 2013 gave 1,500 people cellular coverage and already over the first six months enabled 500,000 phone calls and SMS messages.

Rural Electric Power Project
Rural Electric Power Project

This village-scale solar microgrid has the potential to bring electricity to the 1.2 billion people who currently lack access. Because past efforts to electrify rural communities have been plagued by energy theft, unaffordable connection costs, intermittent supply, and poor maintenance, the project uses smart meters and collects comprehensive household survey data before and after microgrid deployment. In partnership with the startup Gram Power, founded by two former UC Berkeley students, this project is bringing smart-meter enabled grids to rural Rajasthan, India.

We Care Solar
We Care Solar

This award-winning nonprofit designs portable, cost-effective Solar Suitcases, which power critical lighting, mobile communication devices, and medical devices in low-resource maternity wards without reliable electricity. Solar Suitcases are used at hundreds of clinics throughout Africa, Central America, the Caribbean, and Asia. In clinics in Malawi, the suitcases have allowed midwifes to double the number of deliveries, because women know they are in a safe environment to give birth.

Current Activities at DIL

To identify and support high-potential innovations, DILs run a series of targeted grant competitions, prize challenges, and seed grant programs for students, faculty, and development partners.

A managed portfolio of development solutions, drawing on new technological breakthroughs, which are shepherded through the pipeline of needs assessment, R&D, field evaluation, and off-campus scale-up.

A rich network of international partners ensures that innovations are sourced, refined, tested, and scaled through collaboration among experts in the U.S. and in developing economies.

A new academic field of Development Engineering (DevEng) launched in 2014, including a curriculum and minor for PhD students, a peer-reviewed Journal of Development Engineering (coming in 2015), and fellowships to support research and education.

To create a rich exchange of knowledge and learning within and beyond the USAID Higher Education Solutions Network, DIL publishes about both successes and failures, and produces a series of “State of the Science” conferences that disseminate findings and expand collaborations.

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