Technological innovation in the Francophonie

May 29, 2012

Naomi Antony

Naomi Antony
Assistant news editor, SciDev.Net


At this morning’s plenary we had the opportunity to hear about some of the research taking place at EPFL (the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne) ­– UNESCO Chair for Technologies in Development and our conference host.

One project that particularly piqued my interest was RESCIF – the Francophone Network of Excellence in Engineering Sciences.

Launched last year, the network harnesses French-speaking culture as a tool for innovation in technology.

RESCIF has fostered partnerships between leading research institutions in Francophonie countries around the world, including Cameroon, Haiti, Sengal and Vietnam to name a few, forming joint laboratories, educational programmes and internships for young engineers, partnerships with industry, and solidarity action in Haiti to help rebuild two universities that were destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.

Its chosen areas of focus are food security, nutrition, and energy and water in the context of climate change.

RESCIF is putting the spotlight on Francophone research. Credit: ILRI

In its own words, RESCIF was created on four assumptions:

  1. That emerging countries will increase in number over the next decades;
  2. That science and technology will play an increasingly important role in their future development;
  3. That new forms of partnership with the universities of these countries are therefore possible and desirable;
  4. That these partnerships are the best means of curbing the brain drain currently penalizing their development.

Philippe Gillet, EPFL’s vice-president for academic affairs, told us this morning that the goal of the network is to develop innovative technologies that are most essential for developing countries.

Sometimes, what developed nations with good intentions define as “essential” is far removed from the real needs of the poor. So I was relieved when Gillet went on to clarify that such technologies must be affordable to acquire and maintain; durable and sustainable; adapted to the context (cue silent “hurrah” from yours truly); and scientifically valid.

There must be real vision on how any proposed technologies will be implemented in the field, he said.

Now that’s research I can get on board with.

This blog post is part of our 2012 Tech4Dev International Conference coverage. 


The right to travel: a passport for progress

November 20, 2011
A plane

With a passport, science students are a step closer to international collaboration (Credit: Flickr/Nir Sinay)

Getting science students their diplomas proves they are educated, but without a passport they will lack the opportunity to broaden their horizons through international travel and opportunities to work or to continue their education abroad. Indeed, one of the key recommendations coming out of the World Science Forum this week (17-19 November) is the need for more and better international collaboration in science.

So the Fulbright Academy of Science and Technology launched a ‘Passports for progress’ initiative at the forum.

The academy is an international organisation founded by the alumni of the prestigious Fulbright Exchange Program – there are around 300,000 alumni worldwide and several academy delegates attended the forum, including those from Bangladesh, Barbados, Costa Rica, Gaza, Honduras, India, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, United Arab Emirates, and Zimbabwe.

Eric Howard, executive director of the academy, told SciDev.Net the initiative will start will the US students, funding their passports (around US$135 each) but will also be expanded to other countries.

Of course, some western countries have complicated visa requirements but there are other countries they can travel to.

Romain Murenzi, president of TWAS (the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World), told SciDev.Net that there is scope for much more collaboration (and science diplomacy) among developing countries, such as the countries of East Africa.

But overbearing immigration bureaucracy and regulatory hurdles may still hamper free scientific exchange.

One of the key recommendations the forum participants agreed upon to promote international collaboration in science is: “The free co-operation and movement of scientists should be promoted by the elimination of harmful bureaucracy and false regulation and by providing the funds to further international co-operation.”

Mićo Tatalović, deputy news editor, SciDev.Net 


Sustainability science: Pacific Science Congress 2011

June 13, 2011

Credit: PSC

Researchers from all over the Pacific region are gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this week (14–17th June) for the 22nd Pacific Science Congress.

Held every four years, Pacific Science Congresses, organised by the Pacific Science Association (PSA) are an opportunity for scientists in the region to get together — particularly important for those that live and work on in small Pacific island states.

The PSA aims to facilitate science that addresses the main problems in the region and the ambitious theme for this congress is “Asia Pacific Science in the 21st Century: Meeting the Challenges of Global Change”. In his welcome message on the congress website, PSA president Congbin Fu boils this down to ‘sustainability science’ — figuring out how the needs of the present can be met without compromising the future.

PSA defines the Pacific region as “all countries and islands within and bordering the Pacific Ocean”, but sharing an ocean doesn’t mean sharing sensibilities, so hopefully there will be a lot of lively debate about how the countries of the Pacific region can meet 21st century challenges, from the changing climate and deteriorating ecosystems to emerging infectious diseases. And with a membership diverse enough to include the United States and the small Pacific islands states, differences of opinion are bound to crop up.

Through this discussion should come new collaborations, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for new connections in the Pacific science network, both between different countries but also different disciplines — vital in a field “defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs”.

The organisers have set themselves no mean challenge — we’ll see over the next few days how successful they are.

Katherine Nightingale, South-East Asia news editor, SciDev.Net


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