April 25, 2011; Source: Devex | The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation is one of the international aid organizations recently recognized as the 40 most innovative groups in the development aid field by Devex, a widely used development aid news and job board service.

Devex surveyed 2,149 of its members to come up with a list of top innovators in four categories of organizations: donor, implementing NGO, consultancy and advocacy group.

Devex acknowledges a self-selection bias in the sample, due to the limitation of responses to Devex members motivated to respond, and a tendency to pick large, well-known organizations like the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, because it would be unlikely that equally innovative small organizations would be as widely known to development professionals and aid workers around the world.

All of the winners are listed by Devex on Facebook, with the invitation to readers to comment on the innovativeness of the organizations and to suggest others. Here are some of the winners by category (omitting the for-profit consultant category), with links to the discussions that make them innovative:

Donor organizations
Advocacy organizations
Implementer organizations

After the poll, Devex asked the winners what they thought made them innovative. Based on the self-descriptions, innovation isn’t hype and self-promotion, but effective models that achieve results where previous efforts haven’t generally worked, such as Transparency International’s facilitating collective action against corruption among stakeholders in developing countries; Partners in Health’s providing “health care in remote areas where no services were previously available to treating patients with drug regimens once deemed ‘too expensive’ for the world’s poor;” and the Clinton Foundation’s separate initiatives “operat(ing) with a distinct mission in a distinct region, and only at the invitation of local governments.”

Devex itself is an innovator, having been created in 2000 as a student project at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, now operating with 100 staff in offices in Washington D.C., Manila, Tokyo, and Barcelona. Based on the answers to Devex’s questions, groups like the Pediatric AIDS Foundation have much to teach domestic nonprofits.—Rick Cohen