Brussels, 21 Jan 2005
The World Bank has signalled its intention to boost the science and technology capacity of the world's poorest countries in order to promote their economic development.
Over the next 12 to 18 months, the bank aims to identify around a dozen science-based projects that have already proved effective in certain parts of the world, then replicate their success in other developing countries facing similar challenges, particularly in Africa, reports SciDev.Net.
'Our basic goal is to help countries develop their national innovation systems, in the widest sense of that term,' explains Al Watkins, the bank's science and technology coordinator.
Funding for the projects will come from the World Bank's donor nations, either through the establishment of a dedicated science and technology trust fund, or by making the initiatives eligible for funding under the next round of International Development Assistance (IDA) loans.
As well as addressing specific challenges, for instance in the field of agricultural research, the underlying objectives of the project will be to improve developing countries' research capacities, strengthen links between universities, research institutes and industry, and promote the development of industrial technology.
'Sadly, these topics are all too frequently ignored by the World Bank in the mistaken assumption that they are not directly related to the core mission of poverty alleviation and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals,' explains Mr Watkins.
World Bank funding for science and technology initiatives was reduced throughout the 1980s and 1990s as the institution focused more on the promotion of economic reforms. As a result, subsequent efforts to promote science and technology have lacked coherence and focus.
This latest initiative, however, benefits from the support of the World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, who wants an increasing number of the bank's activities to be seen through what he describes as 'a science and technology lens'.
'[There is] plenty of evidence that in a lot of areas, science and technology can make a singular contribution [to development], providing we focus on them in a more coherent way, rather than episodically in response to some stimulus, as we now tend to do,' says Mr Wolfensohn.
As an example of transferring the success of scientific projects from one region to another, Mr Wolfensohn pointed to research carried out by institutions connected to the consultative group for international agricultural research (CGIAR), which has been responsible for a huge increase in food productivity in Asia.
'Taking the CGIAR achievements in Asia and making sure that we replicate them in Africa would seem to be a no-brainer. Indeed it sounds to me as if there are a lot of quick wins that you could pick up here without writing a long theoretical treatise on the application of science and development to development,' he said.
In conclusion, Mr Watkins highlighted the example of South Korea: 'South Korea started investing in knowledge not when it was rich, but when it was a poor country trying to become rich. This is the major message that has to get out. Science and technology is not a luxury but a necessity for poor countries.' To see the World Bank report on strategic approaches to science and technology in development, please visit: http:///econ.worldbank.org/files/25709_wp s3026.pdf