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A new non-profit organisation aiming to use the UK scientific community to address the needs of the developing world has been launched in London today (4 March).

Science for Humanity seeks to bring together scientists, development agencies, funding organisations and local communities to identify developing world problems and collaborate on potential solutions.

Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain and one of the founders of the initiative, says, "The idea is to act as a 'broker' between the scientists who traditionally don't talk to nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and local businesses in the developing world, and at the same time try and convince them that there may be something useful that they could use from the scientists."

"It's a two-way process. On the one hand, the scientists can promote and showcase their technologies. On the other hand there are the NGOs and the local people that have the mindset and the knowledge of what could be used, what would work and what wouldn't, and this can be used to adapt those technologies."

She points to simple technologies developed in the past, such as a 'tea bag' developed by Australian scientists to remove arsenic from drinking water, and genetically modified watercress that changes colour in the presence of landmines, created by Danish researchers.

Greenfield says that the initiative will encourage NGOs and local people to suggest problems or issues that have thus far defied existing technologies, but that a "lateral-thinking scientist" may be able to solve.

The organisation will focus on issues such as disease, agriculture, energy, water supplies and sanitation.

It will begin by recruiting members and partner organisations via its website. A scientific advisory board will be appointed to assess the problems and innovations put forward and all methods and findings will be made freely available.

"The challenges faced by poor people in the developing world are enormously complex. In defining problems, an understanding of the social, cultural, economic and environmental needs of communities is as important as an understanding of the science needs. An integrated approach is required," said Philip Rowley, chief executive of Science for Humanity, in a press statement.

Science for Humanity, funded by the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and the Sloane Robinson Foundation, follows the creation of Scientists Without Borders, an initiative of the New York Academy of Sciences to help researchers address the UN Millennium Development Goals (see New network seeks to break down science barriers).