By Buzz Schmidt, Founder & Chair, GuideStar International
European Foundation Week Session: Science and Technology Partnerships with Africa: Opportunities for European Foundations – presented by the South African Department of Science and Technology, as part of the European South African Science and Technology Advancement Programme, 31st May 2010
This well-attended session featured eleven scientists who are dedicated to embedding scientific and technological awareness, capacity, innovation and application in the culture, commerce and aspirations of every African society. Led by Daan du Toit, South Africa’s senior science and technology representative to the EU, the agenda flowed from a presentation of the existing EU technology-advancement programs through the ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) Secretariat to descriptions of the national policies by senior representatives of the science and technology ministries of three African countries (Egypt, Kenya and South Africa) to presentations of two specific scientific initiatives (both dealing with Astronomy), which are designed to promote advancement, awareness and, very importantly, interest in science by young disadvantaged people.
All participants stressed the importance of strong national science and technology programs as both a pillar of development but also crucial for solutions of problems specific to African countries. All stress the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to research and application of science and technology advances and public awareness and excitement. The South Africans stress further the importance of “iconic” programs such as an ad hoc wireless mesh program that could bring broadband to much of the population without costly towers and infrastructure and the Square Km radio telescope program that promises to transform global attitudes about space and if located in South Africa would transform a generation’s attitude about science and technology.
Implications of the program for TSG’s work:
Other than Dr Odman’s presentation on her astronomy program for disadvantaged youth, the session was dedicated to country-level science and technology policies and issues. The expressions CSO, NGO and NPO were not mentioned until the end of the program. In general it seems that those pushing science and technology do not automatically think of Civil Society as central or crucial in this arena or even in its corollary “developmental” context. Rather, they are looking for any institution – government, academic, business or, possibly, CSO – that can get the job done. Therefore, while we should continue to promote CSO participation in such initiatives, we also should be mindful that non-CSO initiatives are expected by donors to have substantial if not primary development resonance. This perspective is not unique to the science and technology community of Europe and Africa. We see it all over the world in every subject area. It suggests the possibility of TSG or GuideStar International cataloguing, and possibly vetting, non-CSO activity to help donors identify possible interventions, at least in science and technology-related areas.
Nonetheless, there were clear implications for CSOs who must even now be engaged in at least some of the efforts to apply technologies to solve problems. It reinforced the need to build the capacity of CSOs to participate more readily in critical, technology-driven developmental efforts. Similarly, it suggests that there may be a need for more visibility among national science and technology program managers and international funders for the CSOs who could now readily participate in such core national initiatives. Finally, it indicates that there may be a role for TSG partners to play in exposing such national scientific and technological initiatives to CSOs in their countries.