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Voices from the USAID Finance and Investment Network: CollaborateUp

CollaborateUp, an innovative international consulting firm, works with companies, nonprofits, and government organizations to facilitate cross-sectoral collaboration for solving difficult problems. The firm has helped USAID, private and official donors, and companies host co-creation processes. Its team understands how to encourage creative problem solving within a highly regulated environment. In this interview, CEO Richard Crespin discusses the importance of co-creation, describes what it’s been like partnering with USAID, and offers advice for private-sector firms seeking to work with USAID in the future.

By Emily Langhorne, INVEST Communications Specialist

CollaborateUp is an innovative international consulting firm whose mission is to accelerate collaboration among companies, nonprofits, and governments whenever they decide to take on tough challenges.

“Our roots are in working with the private sector,” says CEO Richard Crespin. “We saw how large, publicly traded organizations struggled with trying to work with civil society and the public sector, so we tried to help them figure out how to do that better. We sort of fell backwards into working with USAID.”

In 2012, CollaborateUp began producing a series of articles that ultimately caught the attention of USAID. USAID invited Crespin’s team to discuss the ways in which the development organization was trying to use more innovative methods, such as the Broad Agency Announcement and co-creation process, to accomplish its development goals.

“I happen to have a background in federal acquisition, so I know something about how to be innovative within the regulated environment that is USAID contracting and grantmaking,” says Crespin. “While USAID was not our intended client, the firm has really enjoyed and benefited from working with USAID. We’ve found USAID staff to be some of the most dedicated and clear-minded public officials that we’ve ever worked with.”

CollaborateUp has assisted USAID with 20 co-creation processes and workshops. Recently, the firm partnered with USAID INVEST, an initiative that mobilizes private capital for better development results, to support USAID Mexico in facilitating a virtual co-creation focused on finding blended finance solutions to the problem of deforestation and land degradation in Mexico.

“Co-creation is a valuable tool for solving complex development challenges because it begins from the presumption that we don’t know everything that we need to know,” explains Crespin. “Unlike when we go to purchase tables or software or computers, for complex problems, we can’t necessarily know all the requirements upfront. With co-creation, we are going through a process by which we are trying to discover and understand what the problems are in the first place.”

After so much experience working with USAID, Crespin has some advice for other private-sector firms seeking to work with USAID.

“First, be patient. USAID is a big place. It operates inside of a regulated environment, so the timescale on which USAID makes decisions is different than the timescale on which a company tends to make decisions. That’s neither good nor bad: it simply is. Have some patience and some empathy for what USAID has to go through. Second, be fully disclosed about what you’re trying to accomplish and the timescale that you need to operate on so that USAID can factor that into their decisions. Third, and most important, look for the ‘shared value.’ Your company has a mission, business strategy, and objectives that it’s trying to accomplish, and so does USAID. USAID is very disclosed about that. It’s on their website. You can read about it in the different strategies and documents it puts out. Looking for how your commercial interests overlap with their mission and interests is vital. Finally, always try to bring some humor and some flexibility to the situation.”

Check out the video below to hear more from Crespin about the co-creation process, how it’s useful for solving development challenges, and how USAID has benefited from working with CollaborateUp.



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INVEST, a USAID initiative, mobilizes private investment for development goals. It drives inclusive growth and sustainable development in emerging markets.