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One of the leading international organisations that funds research by scientists from the developing world has decided to substantially increase its support for those working in the poorest of such countries, and reduce it for those in the relatively richer countries.

The Stockholm-based International Foundation for Science (IFS) backs "young developing country scientists who have the potential for becoming the future research leaders and lead scientists in their nations". Since its creation in 1972, it has spread its grants widely across the developing world.

But now the foundation is changing its policy in response to the fact that over the past 30 years, many of the wealthier developing countries have successfully built up thriving scientific communities, and so need less external assistance.

The executive committee of the IFS board of trustees has endorsed a proposal that 50 per cent of all its research grants should be allocated to scientists in "low income and lower middle income" countries by next year. It has also agreed that this proportion should rise to 70 per cent by 2005.

"This shift is a response to the fact that the IFS mission is nearing completion in a number of the more scientifically advanced developing countries," says Richard Hall, the foundation’s deputy director.

"Consequently, we are able to place more emphasis on, and allocate a yet higher proportion of our resources to, those countries which still have vulnerable research infrastructures."

The IFS will now focus more than two-thirds of its grants on many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a number in Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Those that will receive less support include Argentina and Uruguay, among others.

The trustees of the foundation are keen to emphasise that the new target needs to be achieved "without sacrificing scientific quality".

IFS has an annual operating budget of US$5 million. It is funded by a range of governmental and non-governmental sources, as well as national and international organisations that support its goal of "strengthening the capacity of developing countries to conduct relevant and high quality research on the sustainable management of biological resources".

The foundation’s grants are unique in supporting committed scientists at a crucial stage in their research careers, namely when they have an opportunity to become established nationally and internationally. They can use IFS funding to develop a research base by, for example, expanding laboratory facilities or creating a new research department.

Since 1974, IFS has supported 2,741 scientists in 100 developing countries in this way, providing research support worth more than US$50 million. Impact studies have shown that, in many cases, an IFS grant has helped to persuade a scientist to remain working his or her country of origin, and thus to help stem the brain drain.

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