GuideStar International's Blog

June 2, 2010

The link between ICT and Science and Technology in Africa: Implications for Civil Society Organisations

Filed under: civil society,ICT for Development — guidestarinternational @ 14:40
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By Keisha Taylor, Communications Manager, GuideStar International

Keisha Taylor, Communications Manager, GuideStar International

European Foundation Week Session: Science and Technology partnerships with Africa: Opportunities for European Foundations presented by the South African Department of Science and Technology, as part of the European South African Science and Technology Advancement Programme, 31st May 2010

ICT cannot be divorced from science and technology in the development process.  However, one may yet hold the view that the reverse argument also holds true.That is one of the conclusions I drew from the Seminar on “Science and technology partnerships with Africa: Opportunities for European Foundations”. It was presented by the South African Department of Science and Technology as part of the European South African Science and Technology Advancement Programme. Though there was not a lot of discussion about how Foundations can actually participate in such efforts (beyond a final conclusion that opportunities do indeed exist!) the presentations all clearly illustrated that there is a need for civil society to be more involved in and not intimidated by such work.

All presentations highlighted the need to ensure that the current and the future generation of young people are more interested in science and technology, and ICT is one way of facilitating this. The presentation by Dr. Caroline Odman of Universe Awareness for Young Children, spoke about how they collaborate with NGOs, creative artists, teachers, students, astrologists and other stakeholders to use ICT to generate interest among children (ages of 4-10).

Participants at session

Science and Technology also has a big role to play in the improvement of broadband infrastructure.  Without vital infrastructure in place ICT cannot be utilised to its fullest potential, as service is arguably just as important as access. Dr. Ernie Fanaroff, who is working on South Africa’s Square kilometre Array project, (South Africa is competing with Australia to build the world’s largest telescope) as well as the MeerKAT Precursor Array radio telescope programme spoke about how such technology is actually linked to ICT. It can help Africa contribute significantly to the global knowledge economy and global technology trade. Such technologies require “very fast grid computing, very fast data transport, data storage, wireless engineering, digital electronics, image processing and software development”, all necessary components of ICT infrastructure.

Moreover, a lot of ICT development is taking place in countries like Kenya (Dr. Eric Mwagi, Director of Research and Development in the Kenyan Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology spoke about this extensively), Egypt (Prof. A Hamid El-Zoheiry, Coordinator of EU Cooperation, Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research went into detail about how the Egyptian government has prioritise Science and Technology development) and South Africa (Mr. Mmbonei Muofhe, Chief Director of International Resources for the South African Department of Science and Technology highlighted the interesting work being done in the country). These countries are emphasising research and development in the field of Science and Technology and ICT seems to be developing faster in African countries that do so. Those of us implementing ICT programmes should be aware of this. Without good infrastructure, indigenous research aided by investment in science and technology and local communities, reaching development goals will be all the more difficult.

Another issue that arose from the presentations was the need for capacity building. Civil society and indeed foundations can and should play a big role in developing capacity in this area. TechSoup Global and GuideStar International are organisations working to build civil society capacity and they can work together to explore possibilities for collaborating with foundations and other key institutions to develop philanthropy in the ICT sector across a range of social issues. This can be done in a way which facilitates the exploration of links between the work we do and the development of science and technology. Partnerships, across countries, regions, institutions and disciplines were identified as key ingredients in the success of many of the initiatives discussed. The EU is working closely with African countries through the ACP Science and Technology Programme and countless other national and regional programmes exist in the region.

This very good but brief seminar highlighted that development should promote Science and Technology and ICT simultaneously. The presentations illustrated (I hope that they will soon be available online!) that governments, academics, IGOs, civil society, scientists and all other stakeholders need to be armed with tools and skills to help them share and build scientific and technological knowledge and capacity and bring those in Africa and indeed all of us much closer to making the dream of sustainable development a reality.

Science and Technology Partnerships with Africa: Opportunities for European Foundations

Buzz Schmidt, Founder & Chair, GuideStar International

By Buzz Schmidt, Founder & Chair, GuideStar International

European Foundation Week Session: Science and Technology Partnerships with Africa: Opportunities for European Foundations – presented by the South African Department of Science and Technology, as part of the European South African Science and Technology Advancement Programme, 31st May 2010

This well-attended session featured eleven scientists who are dedicated to embedding scientific and technological awareness, capacity, innovation and application in the culture, commerce and aspirations of every African society.  Led by Daan du Toit, South Africa’s senior science and technology representative to the EU, the agenda flowed from a presentation of the existing EU technology-advancement programs through the ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) Secretariat to descriptions of the national policies by senior representatives of the science and technology ministries of three African countries (Egypt, Kenya and South Africa) to presentations of two specific scientific initiatives (both dealing with Astronomy), which are designed to promote advancement, awareness and, very importantly, interest in science by young disadvantaged people.

All participants stressed the importance of strong national science and technology programs as both a pillar of development but also crucial for solutions of problems specific to African countries.  All stress the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to research and application of science and technology advances and public awareness and excitement.  The South Africans stress further the importance of “iconic” programs such as an ad hoc wireless mesh program that could bring broadband to much of the population without costly towers and infrastructure and the Square Km radio telescope program that promises to transform global attitudes about space and if located in South Africa would transform a generation’s attitude about science and technology.

Implications of the program for TSG’s work:

Other than Dr Odman’s presentation on her astronomy program for disadvantaged youth, the session was dedicated to country-level science and technology policies and issues.  The expressions CSO, NGO and NPO were not mentioned until the end of the program.  In general it seems that those pushing science and technology do not automatically think of Civil Society as central or crucial in this arena or even in its corollary “developmental” context.  Rather, they are looking for any institution – government, academic, business or, possibly, CSO – that can get the job done.  Therefore, while we should continue to promote CSO participation in such initiatives, we also should be mindful that non-CSO initiatives are expected by donors to have substantial if not primary development resonance.   This perspective is not unique to the science and technology community of Europe and Africa. We see it all over the world in every subject area.   It suggests the possibility of TSG or GuideStar International cataloguing, and possibly vetting, non-CSO activity to help donors identify possible interventions, at least in science and technology-related areas.

Nonetheless, there were clear implications for CSOs who must even now be engaged in at least some of the efforts to apply technologies to solve problems.  It reinforced the need to build the capacity of CSOs to participate more readily in critical, technology-driven developmental efforts.  Similarly, it suggests that there may be a need for more visibility among national science and technology program managers and international funders for the CSOs who could now readily participate in such core national initiatives.  Finally, it indicates that there may be a role for TSG partners to play in exposing such national scientific and technological initiatives to CSOs in their countries.

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