Policy makers can be a bridge between people who are passionate about ideas and a place where those ideas can be implemented, says Ticora Jones, whose work links up universities and local communities looking to technology to address development challenges. Ms. Jones was speaking at the UN's Commission on Science and Technology for Development, convened by UNCTAD in Geneva, Switzerland, on 23-25 January.
Q: Tell us more about your work?
A: I run a programme that is focused on building bridges between universities around the world and their partners, such as NGOs, communities, impact-investing organizations and other universities, with a focus on science, technology and innovation.
We are trying to get people to think about multidisciplinary ways to approach international development.
We know that there's a lot of wonderful work that goes on in food security and public health, for example, but we also know that there are people in engineering and business that have been doing work in international development.
We wanted to find ways of bringing all of those entities to the table and focus them on understanding the needs of communities and how science, research, innovation, invention and entrepreneurship could work in partnership with them.
When you do that, an idea doesn't just stay in your head or on your lab bench, it actually goes out into the world and you are able to work with people to iterate it. Or an idea can come from the people in a community and you are able to work with them to iterate it.
Q: What is the role of your network in developing solutions for global development?
A: One role is to be a model for this kind of partnership work with the academic community. We have seen lots of ways that higher education has been a very important part of development, not just for training and research purposes but for being able to support the economic development of a society.
We look at different innovations and new technologies and approaches, and form partnerships around deploying these in the field, proving them, and seeing whether or not they work.
We can hopefully proliferate this model so that more academic institutions think differently, whether they are in Uganda, Burundi, or any number of places, about how they interact with their surrounding communities. If we want innovation to take hold and for people to solve their own problems and have a certain kind of agency, there needs to be more people who think this approach works and who work in an "innovation-entrepreneurial" kind of way.
Q: How can policy makers support the work of innovators in colleges and universities?
A: Policy makers have a great role to play and, in part, it is about how you help this community frame questions.
A lot of times what I've seen is people who are very interested in development and who glom on to the most-easily understandable question like designing a new a cook-stove, for example, and do so in a vacuum where they don't know how the local community actually cooks or what their pots look like.
What the policy community can do then is frame those problems and invite research, innovation and entrepreneurial communities to the table. But it is not enough just to frame the problem, put a call out and get a bunch of solutions in, if you don't know where they can go and who can implement them. Being that bridge between people who are passionate about ideas and a place where those ideas can be implemented is another role that the policy community can play.
Q: What is the role of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development in supporting innovations that emerge from higher education?
A: The CSTD has a validating role - through its work it says: "We expect the innovation community to work closer with higher education institutions to train emergent innovators and entrepreneurs, to work with scientists and researchers, to frame problems and identify what's next". This auspicious body can take the time to back up and have a global perspective.