A report commissioned by the US federal government appears set to recommend that the government give higher priority to supporting science and technology (S&T) within its overseas aid programmes.
A draft of the report, which is being drawn up by researchers at the RAND Corporation under a contract to the US Agency for International Development (USAID), argues that it is “important for USAID to think anew” about building endogenous capacity for S&T in developing countries, and promoting innovation to advance their economic growth.
The authors of the report — Anny Wong and Irene Brahmakulam — also argue that research in support of sustainable development requires a country “to have a sufficient level of science and technology capacity to address development challenges and exploit development opportunities”.
At the same time, they point out that there is an element of self-interest involved for the United States, since increasing S&T capacity in developing countries has, they say, a “direct bearing” on US national and foreign policy interests.
“Their weakness in S&T capacity can have potentially adverse effects on US national interests,” say the authors in the draft version of the report, which has been released for discussion through the Internet. “For example, public health threats in foreign countries can spread to the US”.
The report has been commissioned by USAID at a time when the agency is known to be reviewing the effectiveness of its aid policies towards developing countries. It also coincides with a renewed interest in science more widely within national and international aid strategies, after two decades in which higher priority had been given to economic policies (such as structural adjustment programmes) and poverty alleviation.
The authors point out that — largely as a result of these priorities — S&T capacity building is not currently an explicit USAID priority. Despite this, they point out that, in practice, the agency is a major sponsor of international S&T activities within the US government, particularly through its involvement in technical assistance programmes.
They suggest, however, that for USAID to optimise its resources more fully, “a more strategic approach to thinking about S&T capacity building and innovation is necessary”, pointing out that the agency “is in a unique position to mobilise both public and private participation to build S&T capacity and promote innovation for economic growth” .
Drawing on a series of case studies involving US support for health programmes in Russia, energy programmes in India and agricultural programmes in Africa, they point out that increased capacity for S&T has been a “side benefit” of these programmes — even though S&T capacity building is rarely an articulated objective of USAID’s activities.
However they warn that a lack of awareness within the agency of the connection between S&T capacity and economic growth means that support for efforts to promote such capacity “may not be fully optimised or directed to make such efforts sustainable in the long-term”.
The two authors argue that “greater awareness of USAID S&T efforts and their contributions will help the agency to better leverage resources and relationships to advance its mission and accelerate economic growth in developing countries”.
They add that “increased external awareness of USAID contributions will bolster USAID participation in international S&T and development forums, and help USAID to better use its resources to lead, coordinate and consolidate actions by international development assistance organisations and partners in developing countries.”
Finally the authors argue that support “to help create settings conducive to S&T capacity building” is as important as direct support for research and development, technology transfer training and other activities that are more typically associated with S&T capacity building.
© SciDev.Net 2003
Link to draft report