Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A window of opportunity for USAID

Read the full editorial by David Dickson in SciDev.Net. (24 January 2006.)

A decision to reorganize the US Agency for International Development (USAID) - and to appoint the former head of a major pharmaceutical company as its new administrator - could boost the role of science and technology in the agency's efforts.

SciDev'Net's editor expresses cautious optimism that the newly announced reorganization of U.S. foreign assistance and the appointment of Randall Tobias as both Administrator of USAID and as tzar for development assistance (with rank equivalent to that of the Deputy Secretary of State) will lead to needed improvements in U.S. foreign assistance. He hopes that the improvements will include a strengthening of science and technology within U.S. foreign assistance, as do I.

I am especially hopeful since Tobias not only has been the CEO of major corporations, and thus can be expected to have great management skills and influence in this administration, but those corporations were in telecommunications and pharmaceuticals -- both with strong bases in science and technology and great relevance to the needs of developing nations. Moreover, Tobias left the corporate world to take on a major responsibility running the U.S. HIV/AIDS initiative, and through his foundation has financed important educational initiatives -- his heart seems to be in the right place!

In a related matter, I hear from Pat Koshel that the long-awaited National Academies of Science report on S&T in foreign assistance has just been approved for publication. She is hoping to the publication will be out soon!

Since the U.S. government has compartmentalized foreign assistance and relations with U.N. organizations, neither the reorganization nor the NAS report may be expected to have any direct impact on U.S. relations with UNESCO. However, if Dickson's hopes are fulfilled, and there is an improved climate for science and technology in the foreign assistance program of the United States, it seems very likely that there will be a corresponding increase in U.S. interest in UNESCO's science programs and an increased cooperation between efforts funded by U.S. foreign assistance and those funded by UNESCO.

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