Tech4Dev 2012 wraps up

June 1, 2012

Naomi Antony

Naomi Antony
Assistant news editor, SciDev.Net

And so, three days of presentations and deliberations in beautiful Lausanne have come to an end.

Tech4Dev 2012 set out to boost the role of science and technology as an agent of social transformation and change.

It aimed to meet this formidable challenge by encouraging participants to share their experiences in the following areas: defining appropriate technologies that respond to social needs and realities; establishing cross-disciplinary partnerships; and improving technology transfer and supporting the co-creation of technologies.

Conference coordinator Nathalie Rizzotti said: “The aim was really to encourage dialogue among [different] disciplines in order that we reflect on how other knowledge, backgrounds, cultures and visions can support our work. We ended up with three intensive and very rich days full of many presentations, side events and debates”.

I had been looking forward to a finalised statement and the identification of 10 gaps and needs for field applications, both of which had been expected outcomes by the end of the three days.

However, Rizzotti said in the closing session: “For us it is too soon to really be able to summarise and realise all what emerged from the diversity of the participants. I think we all need to digest first … the amount of information that was exchanged here during these three days”.

She added that they hoped delegates would reflect in their everyday practice on the issues that had been discussed, and adapt what was presented to their own contexts and realities.

Arun Amirtham of renewable energy non-profit swissmango said the three days had been “tremendous”.

“It’s been inspiring – I’ve been able to tank energy into me from some of the keynote addresses we’ve had.”

“There have been examples of models that do work. It’s not easy – it requires perseverance, it requires stubborness to a certain extent. But it’s been very rewarding to see that there are models that do work.”

He urged the conference organisers to ensure that there is continuity. “How do we stay in touch? [We] need a little bit more prodding and facilitation … to keep us in touch with eachother.”

A summary and statement will be published on the conference website in a few weeks.

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

The paradoxes of technology – and how to avoid them

May 31, 2012

Naomi Antony

Naomi Antony
Assistant news editor, SciDev.Net

Few people would doubt the key role that technology has to play in alleviating poverty. But, as Pierre Rossel of the EPFL reminded us in a session on technology and innovation, paradoxes abound – and it is essential to be aware of them if we are to successfully harness technology as a tool for development.

Rossel presented three paradoxes that researchers and practitioners must cope with.

With an uptake of technology – leading to increased productivity and poverty reduction –  emerges the risk of an increased divide between the poor and the extremely poor.

Local innovation is just as important as state-of-the-art technology. Credit: Flickr/joanofarctan

“New divides are reinforced as not everyone has the chance to take up, or learn how to benefit from, the [technology],” said Rossel. “Accompanying measures need to be put in place for broader uptake opportunities.”

The development of local science is often seen as a luxury in poverty-stricken areas and is viewed as difficult to maintain, particularly because it is highly expensive to sustain – but not doing anything is worse. “Basic science training and research capabilities should always be sought after  … even at high cost,” he said.

Thirdly, aid, whether technology-centred or not, is continually is competition with a more entrepreneurial approach to development. At the same time, this entrepreneurial mindset is a fundamental dimension of both the uptake and effective deployment of technology.

Rossel suggested measures for dealing with these paradoxes.

Firstly, he said, researchers and practitioners must be prepared to do several things at the same time. “Even when it seem obvious that technology will solve the problem, several co-factors have to be taken care of, such as continuity, expertise, and social uptake and balance.”

He also urged technology implementers to think beyond imitation. “Local players have their own innovation capabilities, building on local peculiarities or working with scarce resources.” He said that doing it “one’s own way” is always best, and that might mean by-passing or leapfrogging technology to avoid pitfalls.

“Local technology is an important as international state-of-the-art technology.”

Any technology drives must be anchored in receptive and multiplicative contexts, he said. Undoubtedly the first candidates will be cities – however they have concerns of their own and their improvements must not occur in isolation from their surrounding environments.

He added that the costs of technology transfer, knowledge, sharing and more should also be taken into consideration, as well as provisioning for longer-term impacts.

“Technology indeed can work – there is no intrinsic evil in it,” Rossel said. “But there is no such thing as an absolutely appropriate technology. Low tech and high tech features and devices can be mingled and recombined at will.”

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

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. 

Don’t forget the jobs!

November 10, 2010

National energy plans should not forget job creation opportunities. Credit: Kuyasa CDM project

Embracing new energy technology without training skilled people to maintain the new gadgets is not the way to go for Africa, South Africa’s science and technology minister, Naledi Pandor, said on Monday night.

“No one has made a provision to repair solar panels when they break down. Skills associated with the positive technology must be made available so that we can confront future problems,” she said.

This morning, Barry Bredenkamp, from the South African National Energy Efficiency Agency, made a similar point.

National energy programmes are fertile ground for job creation, he said. But the South African national energy plan fails to address this issue – something that must be rectified, Bredenkamp said. “In South Africa, and globally, we have a serious unemployment problem.”

South Africa recently set up a Working for Energy programme. This programme aims to marry the rolling out of sustainable energy options in South Africa with job creation, focusing on up-skilling the unskilled. The programme will intentionally choose labour-intensive alternatives to stimulate job creation.

Something for other African countries to consider?

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net

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