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Spotlight on the Public Service Medal recipients

Last month, Lisa Rauter was awarded a Public Service Medal for outstanding public service in establishing the ground-breaking initiative innovationXchange. We recently interviewed Lisa on her achievements in this role.

When Lisa Rauter accepted the role of heading up the new innovationXchange (iXc) in 2015, the former FAS for AusAID’s’s Middle East and Africa Division was given one directive: “Go and innovate”.

iXc was initially driven by a need to think differently about the way Australia delivers foreign aid. Lisa, and her initial team of five, had $140 million over four years, or less than 1% of the aid program budget over the same period of time, to make a real impact.

Conscious of the fact that in the aid space, problems are typically big, wicked and multifaceted, the iXc team focussed on where they could make a difference, where there was not already a deep focus on in the aid program and where there was potential to do something more cost-efficiently and reach more people.

In Lisa’s words, “everything we did, from recruitment to design through to implementation, was experimentation. We needed to turn a lot of the traditional thinking, regarding delivering aid, on its head. This also required a change in the culture of DFAT as we were redefining our models for procurement, contracts, recruitment and partnering.

“For example, a global network was created that enabled DFAT to tap into expertise that had not previously been achieved at this scale. This resulted in private sector and other corporations becoming core partners of iXc, including Google, Intel, Atlassian, CSIRO, Carnival Cruises, GSMA, Monash University, XPrize, World Vision and others bringing a completely new perspective and new large global networks to the table.”

Using these global networks and partners, the iXc undertook a number of Global Challenges, with one of the most significant to the region focussing on nutrition and food in an attempt to tackle Diabetes Type II in the Pacific. With many factors at play including supply, nutrition, affordability and cultural considerations, the team were looking for innovations that not only addressed the issues at hand, but ideas that could become self-sufficient after initial start-up support from the Australian Aid Program.

This challenge was the catalyst for innovations including Harvest Plus’s modified staple food crops which are enriched to provide between 25% and 100% of daily requirements for vitamin A, iron, and zinc and a unique innovative plasma-based treatment that extends the life of fresh produce by delaying mould growth – increasing the likelihood of fresh food purchase and consumption in the Pacific.

Similarly, submissions to a joint global challenge with WWF and ConservationXLabsin the US to address the challenges associated with aquaculture in developing countries, including to enhance nutrition and reduce reliance on wild caught fish, identified solutions including a new oral vaccine for fish to combat disease, a new sustainable approach to produce spirulina and a new insect-based meal for farmed fish. And the great news is that iXc funded these and many more smaller innovations that would not have been normally been identified or funded from the aid program and all show potential to grow, employ local people and contribute to local economies.

With the success of these partnerships and global challenges, Lisa and her team broadened the scope of iXc’s mandate in aid and looked internally to foster new thinking and cultural change across DFAT. The annual ‘ideas challenge’ was launched in 2015, with 392 ideas submitted from all areas of DFAT’s portfolio. Of the ten finalists, two had time and resources committed to their further development, with the Department committing to exploring and implementing many of the remaining ideas where possible.

It is impossible to cover, in any great detail, the incredible achievements of Lisa and her team during the iXc’s foundational years. However, with the recent release of DFAT’s Innovation Strategy 2018-21, which seeks to embed innovation across all of the Department’s work, it is exciting to consider how each of us can seize opportunities and solve challenges, just as Lisa and her team have done.  

Lisa handed over the reins of the iXc earlier this year to Dr Sarah Pearson and at that point in time, there were around 74 innovations that DFAT had invested in since the iXc’s launch.

To find out more about the InnovationXchange, visit their website and follow them on Twitter: @DFAT_iXc.