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Driving the Future, Uber-style

Rik Williams
Rik ideates on over-the-horizon issues.

By Steve Gale, USAID Global Development LAB, Futures Team Lead

Next time you call an Uber, you probably won’t find Rik Williams, 2015-16 Executive Branch Fellow in the Global Development Lab of the U.S. Agency for International Development, at the wheel. But perhaps you will glimpse evidence of his policy expertise as he explores Uber’s impact on mobility, urbanization, and economics as a new data scientist on their public policy team.

Uber operates in over 70 countries and 500 cities worldwide, including many countries where USAID operates. As a member of the GeoCenterPlus’ Futures Team, Rik was a driving force to encourage USAID Missions to think more about the future of development five to 10 years out. He worked with field staff, aid implementers, and development partners to craft scenarios in support of next generation Country Development Cooperation Strategies (CDCS) -- the blueprint for planning and programming aid development. 

The major idea behind scenario planning is for USAID to break free of historical over-reliance on the assumption that there is likely to be only “one future.” Instead, scenario planning considers several alternate yet “plausible development futures.” The USAID Futures Team explores how a Mission might consider its out year programming options by looking at the interaction of longer terms trends – such as demography, urbanization, and natural resource availability – alongside potential “what if’s” including the outcome of future host-country elections, possible EU accession (or not), or sharply rising or declining corruption levels. 

Experience like Rik’s as a fellow in a USAID Lab where he focused on over-the-horizon issues and worked directly with Missions could turn you into a bright green dot on a company’s recruitment radar screen.