Bows and arrows for a computer and an email

December 15, 2011


This blog article has been produced for Eye on Earth Summit 2011 by SciDev.Net Conference Service, which maintains all editorial independence.

In Abu Dhabi  this rich country in the Middle East  Chief Almir Surui stands out from the crowd. With his feathery hat he looks out of place, but his modern laptop and the natural way he moves among people in suits and ties or kandoras and ghutras tells another story.

Chief Almir looks older than his 36 years, maybe because he had to grow up fast: since he was 17 he has been the leader of 1,350 other Amazonian Surui people.

Back in the 1980s, Almir and his people struggled with bows and arrows for their Amazonian territory, in the southwest of Brazil, close to the Bolivian border.  Now they’re doing it with mobile phones and Google apps.

Despite his reservation getting electricity just five years ago, Almir has adapted quickly. Recently, he has found himself visiting countries like Japan, the United States, England and Denmark, as well as Abu Dhabi, where he gave a speech on December 13, at the Eye on Earth Summit.

“I am here because I believe the experience of my people can contribute in some way to building a new model of development that respects the culture of local communities and helps to rethink the economy,” he told SciDev.Net.

At the conference, he talked to business leaders, NGOs and governmental representatives about the Surui people, the significance of forest protection for them and the environmental importance of conserving indigenous reservations.

“We have to take advantage of events like this to think about real solutions for sustainable development. We can’t just discuss, we also have to do something,” he told the audience. This echoed the words of other speakers, including former US president Bill Clinton.

Almir also talked about his tribe’s current project to preserve and conserve the Surui forest territory through the sale of carbon credits.

“I believe that we have to create our future and not wait for it to come to us. That is why we protect our forest for future generations while we also take advantage of it today,” he said in his speech.

“The Surui people are managing the environment in our own way and we want other people around the world to know what we are doing, to contribute with public policies and to help making our planet sustainable.”

Daniela Hirschfield

Shining Path, the Arab Spring, the poor and data

December 14, 2011


This blog article has been produced for Eye on Earth Summit 2011 by SciDev.Net Conference Service, which maintains all editorial independence.

A Peruvian economist, whose ideas inspired the poor in the 1980s and helped rid his country of the Shining Path (a local Maoist guerrilla movement), used the Arab Spring as his motif when he talked to delegates at the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi — just four days after the first anniversary of the start of the social revolution that has convulsed the region.

Hernando De Soto, founder and president of the influential Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD) think tank and once named in Forbes’ list of the world’s 100 most influential people, used the example of Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old Tunisian fruit merchant who immolated himself after police confiscated his merchandise  — valued at $225.

But the police took away more than just goods: they took way his capital, the possibility of feeding his family and paying back his debts, the dream of building a bigger business and also the right to keep the street pitch on which his livelihood depended.

This story illustrates a crucial aspect of De Soto’s thesis — that giving property rights to the poor is a key way of alleviating poverty and generating information that will help governments know, for example, where to provide basic services or build roads.

Without an information framework, he argues, that includes property ownership records and other economic information, small entrepreneurs cannot obtain credit and expand because they cannot prove legal ownership rights.

De Soto said he spoke to Bouazizi’s family after the suicide to try to understand the despair of marginalised people, or as he calls them, the extra-legals. He also recalled how Mohamed’s brother told him that Bouazizi wanted his death “to help the poor to have the right to buy and sell”.

He also said that Mohamed, like many extra-legals, wanted to be part of what economists call the formal sector and to be legally recognised. But, in the Middle East, as in other countries in North Africa and Latin America, it was impossible for the poor to obtain the money and knowledge to fulfil what the law asked them to do.

“The law was there, but it was not there for the poor, for a poor small capitalist,” De Soto told SciDev.Net.

“It is obvious that there are business laws in some countries that conspire against the poor. I don’t think that is the intention, but it is something that it should be looked at.”

Daniela Hirschfeld

Young, female and full-time: the modern Latin American science journalist

June 27, 2011

Bothina Osama

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Tomorrow I am going to share the results of a survey of the global state of science journalism. 

Some time ago I joined an initiative to map this subject, led by Martin Bauer of the London School of Economics, United Kingdom, and based on a questionnaire developed by the university.

We (the Ibero-American Network for Monitoring and Training in Science Journalism, a collaboration between ten countries in the region) put particular effort into collecting data in Latin America, and the results were very interesting. 

Science journalists in Latin America are largely female, young and have full-time jobs. A high number of respondents (62 per cent) have been working in the field for less then ten years. The press and Internet are the media most likely to cover science.

The role of science journalism is to inform (40 per cent) and to translate complex information (23 per cent). Only three per cent of respondents saw the need for science journalists to provide a more critical perspective.

Science journalism in Latin America is young and female. Credit: Flickr/sskennel

The survey raises many questions. Do most science journalists not survive more than ten years – or has science journalism been attracting more people recently? How much has the recognition of science as key for social development in several countries in the region, at least in the speech of policymakers, contributed to the increase? How much have the training workshops that we, SciDev.Net, have been carrying out in Latin America in the last ten years contributed to the increase?

It is a pity that radio and TV, more frequently accessed by people in developing countries, cover little science. It is also a pity that Latin American journalist give more room for science from the developed world to the detriment of local and regional science.

Do you want to help us to think about these issues? Please participate in this worldwide survey! It takes only 10 minutes: 

Questionnaire in English:

Questionnaire in Spanish: 

Please don’t participate if you have already completed the questionnaire. Let’s talk more about this issue at the next conference?

Luisa Massarani is also head of Museum of Life, a hands-on science museum in Brazil.

The last dance and parting shots

October 23, 2009

The 11th TWAS general conference came to an end today with Jacob Palis, the president of the organisation, extending a greeting from another Jacob; Zuma, the president of South Africa.

Meeting Palis and his colleagues in Cape Town yesterday, Zuma promised that if TWAS was to organise another conference in his country he would attend in person. Oh well…

It has not just been hard work. Last night, TWAS members and staff were dancing on tables in a casino where the final party of the week took place. Unfortunately, your correspondent did not attend with her camera, otherwise this post may have had more interesting images to go with it.

The conference signalled a deepening collaboration between TWAS and South Africa, which is going to set up a regional chapter of the organisation.

It may also mark the end of an era. Mohammed Hassan, TWAS executive director, is expected to retire at some point. This could be his last general conference. But then again, it might not…

Even if Hassan retires, he is unlikely to sever his ties completely with the organisation, according to sources in TWAS. Like a certain Russian president-cum-prime minister, he is likely to stay involved for some time to come. Which, in this case, isn’t a bad thing!

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net

How’s your IBSA?

October 21, 2009


Last post of today I think…

This conference has been dominated by voices from a small number of countries. As they are the host, it is not strange that South Africa has taken a prominent role. But many talks have also come from India and Brazil.

In a way, it’s not surprising. There are more scientists in South Africa and India than in, say, Mali. But it is putting a slightly weird spin on things.

For example, we are not hearing enough from the poorest of the poor—except in the third person when delegates from the countries above talk about wanting to boost South-South cooperation.

And that they do, constantly, which is really encouraging. The financial crisis has opened up avenues for them to rally and try to plug the gaps left by the worse affected developed countries, who foot much of the bill for science and technology support for the poorest countries.

The governments of the ‘big three’ are also pushing strongly for collaboration with each other. The IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) partnership is still evolving, but speaking to South Africa’s science minister it seems like it is going well. Each party has put $1 million into a central pot for 2009/10.

Perhaps one of the outcomes of this conference should be some sort of gentlemen’s agreement between the better off developing countries and those who are really struggling for closer cooperation, perhaps plugging some of the gaps left open by Western donors cutting funding due to the financial crisis?

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net

Olympics, economics and Barack Obama

October 20, 2009

Much has changed in the fortunes of developing countries since last year’s TWAS meeting, the organisation’s president Jacob Palis said at the inaugural session before lunch today.

The financial crisis may have almost brought the world economy to a standstill—but it was the economic resilience of the developing country’s biggest economies that kept it going, he said.

Next year’s football World Cup in South Africa, a black man in the White House and Brazil winning the 2016 Olympics are all signs that the tide has turned for developing countries, he added.

Palis’ point was that one of the drivers of this change in developing countries’ fortunes is investments in science and technology.

But the progress has been uneven, and now it is up to the emerging economies—China, India, South Africa—to step up to the plate and share their successes with their neighbours, he concluded.

During the conference, South Africa and Brazil will meet for bilateral talks on how to boost science cooperation. There will be plenty of best practice examples for how to boost such links further.

But so far, the main voices in Durban have come from the powerful emerging economies, or from the developed world. Hopefully we will also be hearing from those who are a bit further from achieving a “knowledge revolution”.

The least developed countries will have access to help, but they also need to help themselves said South African science minister Naledi Pandor.

She voiced concern that four years after Africa adopted a common science plan, many countries either don’t have science ministries, or have not outlined a role for S&T in their national development plans.

In “recession watch” news, the German ambassador to South Africa said developed countries will not cut funding for developing country science.

Tell that to the Swedish development agency SIDA which may cut its research cooperation budget by 20% in 2010!

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net

TWAS 11th general conference, Durban

October 19, 2009

Welcome to the blog for the TWAS 11th general conference taking place in Durban, South Africa, this week!

I will be filing several reports each day on this blog, focusing on what is happening in the world of harnessing science and technology for development. You will hear from a lot of bigwigs, including South Africa’s relatively new science minister Naledi Pandor and the African Union’s science commissioner Jean-Pierre Ezin.

These are interesting times. It is a while now that ‘science for development’ has been on policymakers’ lips, and it is not presumptuous to expect to see some results.

But world finances are not what they used to be, and there is a real risk in many parts of the developing world — not least Africa — that science could lose out to other pressing funding priorities.

On Wednesday, I’ll report back from what will promises to be an extremely interesting symposium on the impact of the global financial crisis on research and education in developing countries. Some funders have already said they are cutting grants, but what are the reports from the coalface?

The tougher financial times we all face these days are likely to be a recurring theme throughout the conference. But the next few days also promise to be a showcase of how, with a little ingenuity and a lot of determination, limited resources can be made to go a long way.

So watch this space!

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net

Evaluation of science communication activities, a gap to be filled

May 28, 2009

If the number of science communication activities increases in Latin America, the evaluation of these initiatives doesn’t come with this growth. Since evaluating is a crucial stage in developing and improving science communication projects, there is a clear gap to be filled. That`s what a new workgroup presented today at the XI RedPOP meeting intends to do.

The Network for Measuring the Impact of Popularization of Science and Technology in Ibero-America (REMIPCYT), created in 2008, aims to put six Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, Mexico, Uruguay and Costa Rica) together to develop evaluation strategies that can measure the impact of science communication activities in society.

“REMIPCYT has two important aspects. The first one is that this investigation effort will help us to validate our science communication practices. And the second one is that working in networks like REMIPCYT and constructing collective knowledge strengthen our capacity to do research on this field”, told to SciDev.Net Graciela Merino, coordinator of REMIPCYT, from the National University of La Plata, Argentina.

REMIPCYT is connected to RedPOP and funded by the Latin American Science & Technology Development Programme (CYTED). The activities started in 2008 and will go on until 2011. Around 30 researchers are involved in REMIPCYT.

“In the future, we hope that this work will help us to convince politicians and science & technology institutions that science communication plays a crucial role in sustainable development”, added Merino.

Besides REMIPCYT, there are some other initiatives focusing on evaluation of science communication activities. In Brazil, for example, the Museum of Life – connected to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation – has been developing a multimedia tool to assess visitors and explainers opinions about its exhibits.

“This evaluation can be an important management tool”, said Sonia Mano, responsible for evaluation and studies of public at the Museum of Life. Results of public surveys can help the Museum to improve its exhibits and programs.

Catarina Chagas, SciDev.Net

Divulgadores de la ciencia ‘deben ser tomados en serio’

May 28, 2009

La creación de un sistema nacional de divulgadores de la ciencia que siga el modelo del sistema de investigadores adoptados por muchos países –que incluya convocatorias y becas – debería ser perseguida en los países de América Latina, defendió Julia Tagueña, investigadora de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México y divulgadora científica.

Dicha sistema, segundo ella, permitiría apoyar y evaluar más sistemáticamente los profesionales del área. La evaluación podría tener como punto de partida los criterios cuantitativos y cualitativos del sistema nacional, incluyendo producción, independencia (del tutor) y liderazgo.

Tagueña defendió la profesionalización de los divulgadores, que no deben se limitar a los que divulgan como un hobby. “No es un comentario peyorativo a los que hacen divulgación científica como un hobby, pero si la defensa de que sean creados mecanismos de capacitación,” dijo.

“Si es posible empezar del cero, pero los cursos de postgrados permiten aprovechar mejor la experiencia de aquellos con experiencia en el área.”

Tagueña afirmó que nos es obligado que todos los divulgadores hagan investigación, pero si es obligado que los divulgadores aprovechen los resultados de las investigaciones en divulgación científica para incrementar la calidad del área.

La profesionalización es uno de los temas de las reuniones de RedPOP y, justamente por presión de los mexicanos se transformó en una de las líneas temáticas de los encuentros desde el año 2003, cuando México fue sed del evento.

Luisa Massarani, Coordinadora regional para América Latina y el Caribe, SciDev.Net

Presidente de RedPOP hace llamado por un “trabajo colectivo”

May 28, 2009

La presidente de la RedPop y de la Fundación Cientec de Costa Rica, Alejandra León-Castella, destaca la importancia de se trabajar en red, para avanzar en la divulgación científica en la región.

“Hago un llamado por el trabajo colectivo para que construyamos juntos nuevos proyectos,” dijo a SciDev.Net León-Castella.


Ella destaca que la reunión de la red sólo es realizada a cada 2 años y, por eso, es muy importante desarrollar proyectos que estén activos entre los encuentros, incluso aquellos que utilizan herramientas de la Internet, como por ejemplo videos y entrevistas cortos vehiculados a través de You Tube.

“El trabajo en red alimenta la sinergia,” afirmó.

Luisa Massarani, Coordinadora regional para América Latina y el Caribe, SciDev.Net

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