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LIDC’s New Monthly Podcast Explores the Impact of Science and Technology

Development Matters addresses today’s major international development issues through in-depth interviews with leading scholars from across the globe. In the first episode Professor Calestous Juma, of Harvard University, shares his insights and experiences relating to the role of science and technology in the developing world – from biotechnology to broadband internet. During the 20-minute conversation he reviews the new ground-breaking book Science and Innovation for Development by Professor Gordon Conway, of Imperial College London, and Professor Jeff Waage, Director of LIDC, and explains how the latest technologies are transforming lives and democratising politics in Africa.
Click here to listen to the podcast

The Development Matters format and the subjects discussed have been chosen to provide a new approach to complex problems and are designed to challenge traditional development thinking. There is a particular emphasis on the benefits of bringing together the social and natural sciences, in keeping with the interdisciplinary focus of LIDC’s work regarding international development research and teaching.

Role of science
Juma, Professor of Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology and Globalisation Project at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, begins the interview by praising Science and Innovation for Development. He says: “The book is important because the development community has historically not taken science and technology as a significant source of economic productivity and improvement of human welfare. The book based on the examples that it offers really demonstrates conclusively that we should really be investing more in building up the capacity of the developing countries to solve their own problems through science and technology.” Juma also discusses the role of institutional innovation to further scientific progress, drawing on his own experiences in his native Kenya. He established the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) – Africa’s first independent policy research institution – in 1988, and, more recently, the Victoria Institute of Science and Technology.

Democratising politics
Juma believes the impact of mobile technologies is “phenomenal” and will contribute to governments moving from “inherently dictatorial systems to “more democratic practices”. He said: “I will risk a claim here that mobile technologies might end up contributing more to the democratisation of Africa than elections because they offer a continuous mechanism for social interaction [rather than elections every four, five years]...This capacity to make information publicly available has a critical impact in enhancing accountability and also keeping political leaders under check. There isn’t a better system - it is almost like having continuous elections.” Juma added that mobile phones and broadband internet will transform access to information; government will no longer be a “controller of information” but a “facilitator” because of the alternative ways of accessing information. He also urges governments to dismantle telecommunication monopolies and improve training for politicians. Juma wants to see “schools of governance” emerging in Africa to establish better methods of training political leaders, including a better understanding of the “ethics of public service.”

By Guy Collender, Senior Communications Officer at LIDC