[CAPE TOWN] Mozambique's former science minister will be the next head of the science policy division at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), SciDev.Net can reveal.
UNESCO expects Lidia Brito to take up the post in Paris in December. She replaces Mustafa El Tayeb, who has led UNESCO's science policy work since 1996.
Brito has gained solid experience as a science policymaker in a developing country after serving as Mozambique's first minister of higher education, science and technology between 2000 and 2005.
As minister, Brito — who has a PhD in forest sciences — was responsible for drawing up a national strategy for higher education and reforming Mozambique's legal framework for science.
After stepping down from this role, she taught forest sciences at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique. She has also served on the UN University Council and the African Forest Forum's governing council.
Brito is a familiar face on the African science policy circuit and the news of her appointment has been widely welcomed.
"She is well known as a knowledgeable and passionate advocate for science-based development in poor countries," Mohamed Hassan, executive director of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), told SciDev.Net.
"We can think of no better person to build on UNESCO's recent efforts to develop capacity in science policy in the developing world and especially in Africa."
Tomas Kjellqvist, head of research cooperation at Sida, the Swedish development agency, says: "We hope UNESCO's advisory role will grow in least developed countries. We think Lidia Brito has the experience and the contact network needed to do this."
But Brito does not face an easy task, development experts agree. The key challenges are twofold, according to Peter Tindemans, a science policy expert who has worked closely with UNESCO and contributed to its 2005 science report.
The first is to address UNESCO's habit of spreading its resources too thinly, he says. The second — linked to the first — is to reconsider UNESCO's practice of helping developing countries draw up policy documents while failing to assist with policy implementation.
A third challenge will be to boost the "innovation" component of UNESCO's policy programmes, says John Daly, a former science official with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) who has also advised the World Bank.
"The difference is a shift in focus from research to development and innovation in the productive sectors," he says.
It is expected that Brito will be eased into her new job with a small boost in budget. A draft UNESCO budget circulated last month includes a US$2.5 million increase for the natural sciences division, taking its total to US$22 million. The document identifies science policy as a priority area for the organisation.
Brito has been a trustee of SciDev.Net since 2007.