Essays on Science and Society

Creating the New Development Ecosystem

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Science  15 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6087, pp. 1397-1398
DOI: 10.1126/science.1224530

Twenty years after the Earth summit, we continue to face tremendous challenges to ecological, human, and national security. Development is the frontline defense, but traditional approaches are no longer sufficient. Development interventions have been dominated by a handful of bilateral and multilateral institutions that defined the problems and implemented a narrow set of solutions. Although there have been tremendous successes, this has not been enough to reverse the continued degradation of our environment or to overcome entrenched problems. To turn grand challenges into grander opportunities, we must harness the entire planet's creativity to contribute novel solutions.

The USAID and its partners have crowd-sourced the world to apply science, technology, and innovation against seemingly intractable barriers to solving the Grand Challenges for Development (GCDs) and to catalyze global action to achieve scale, sustainability, and impact. Between 25 and 50% of the proposed solutions to the first two GCDs (Saving Lives at Birth and All Children Reading) have come from developing countries. A new partnership between USAID and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research, generated 488 proposals from 63 of the 79 eligible countries with a USAID presence to partner developing-country scientists with NSF-funded American scientists on shared global development problems. These programs, and others like Open-Source Drug Discovery, recognize that developing countries are sources of solutions and ideas as much as developed countries. Constraints of low-resource settings allow for creation of efficacious world-class products that can cost less and have a smaller environmental impact.

Democratization of science and technology, increases in global connectivity, and greater availability of data will facilitate a movement from a handful of traditional global development agencies toward 7 billion development agents. Cell phones, for example, have been tools of transformation that moved societies beyond traditional infrastructure barriers, serving as platforms for services and learning, providing remote diagnostics for medical treatment, identifying centers of corruption, and serving as distributed sensors of communities and their ecosystems. Our planet's future, driven largely by developing countries, will depend on whether we can work collaboratively to leapfrog 200 years of industrialization and to harness the power of science and technology to create a new revolution based on knowledge.

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