After ‘aid’ — what will come next?

David Dickson

David Dickson
Editor, SciDev.Net

Is it too soon to start planning for a world in which “foreign aid” is a concept of the past? And in which countries across the developing world – even in Africa – are able to stand on their own feet, meeting their own needs and solving their own problems?

Not according to the organisers of Forum 2012, which opens in Cape Town tomorrow, and from which we will be blogging regularly for the next three days.

The subtitle of the meeting says it all: “Beyond Aid: research and innovation as key drivers for health, equity and development”.

In other words, the goal of the forum is to sketch out how enabling developing countries to build their own capacity for research-based innovation holds the key to weaning them away from dependency on external aid.

An ambitious enough goal. But one worth aiming for. And certainly closely aligned with a goal that has been at central to SciDev.Net since we started just over ten years ago, summed up in our own slogan “putting science at the heart of development”.

The main focus of the meeting will be to look at how all this could work for health technology and the treatment of disease, particularly in Southern Africa.

This reflects the fact that the forum has been organised by the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), which merged two years ago with the Global Forum for Health Research (after the latter had imploded in difficult circumstances).

But the message also reflects the desire of COHRED’s ambitious executive director, Carel Ijsselmuiden, to go further and establish home-grown innovation as the model for growth across the whole development spectrum.

Three days of discussion lie ahead, with contributions from a wide range of stakeholders, in particular those who COHRED identifies as “change-makers” – individuals who can make things happen. Young scientists and health workers, representing the voice of the future, will also be given a prominent place on the programme.

The first day — after an introductory session that will include welcomes from both South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, and the Gumboot dancers, something to look forward to — will focus on introducing the major themes, with a particular emphasis on the situation in South Africa.

The second will look at “making it work” for research and innovation. And the third on “the way forward”.

Each topic has lots of meat on it. Plenary and interactive sessions will range from discussion of recommendations to the World Health Organization (WHO) on the possible contents of an international treaty on R&D — which I described in last week’s editorial — to a session that I’m taking part in on Thursday about the role of the media (and particularly social media) in helping change to happen.

So, lots of lively debate to look forward to.

And with Cape Town’s weather looking at its best — even though the locals as complaining that there’s already an autumnal chill in the air — hopes are high that the meeting will be able to take an important step “into the beyond”.

This blog post is part of our Forum 2012 coverage — which takes place 24–26 April 2012.

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