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Finding practical solutions to complex problems: IDRC’s fifth annual public meeting

April 15, 2016

IDRC supports results-based research that has real impacts on the ground and improves public policies and people’s lives, said IDRC Acting Chairperson Denis Desautels at IDRC’s 2013 annual public meeting on November 20 in Ottawa.

“IDRC staff share a common goal with the researchers they work with – to find low-cost, down-to-earth solutions to complex problems in developing countries,” he continued.

Desautels provided an overview of the Centre’s work over the past year, underscoring IDRC’s contributions to Canada’s foreign aid policy in areas such as food security, and child and maternal health, for example.

Over the past year alone, IDRC has launched or maintained roughly 860 research activities. In these projects and programs, “IDRC tries to be as realistic and as practical as is possible in the research field, and does not fund research that will gather dust on a shelf,” he said.

In his address, IDRC President Jean Lebel detailed his introduction to IDRC 20 years ago when he received a $15,000 grant to study mercury poisoning in fishing villages along the Amazon in Brazil. Many of the researchers he worked with on that study went on to pursue further education, and have since returned to the region to continue working to solve problems that affect their communities.

President of IDRC Jean Lebel speaks at a podium

Lebel highlighted some key projects that IDRC has funded in the past year, including developing heat-resistant vaccines for livestock to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa, identifying solutions to violence in urban centres in Latin America, and changing the social acceptability of sexual harassment in Egypt and the Middle East through a crowdsourcing map, HarassMap. 

Such projects epitomize IDRC’s values of building self-reliance and of focusing on local problem-solving, said Lebel.

Lebel also spoke of the valuable investment that IDRC provides. With funding provided by the Government of Canada, IDRC is able to leverage funds from governmental aid organizations in other countries, such as the UK, as well as funds from large private or non-governmental organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

“IDRC is a world leader in development research. We use only a small portion of Canada’s aid budget to leverage millions from other G8 donors and private foundations. For every $1 of IDRC funds, we have raised $3 from these sources to multiply the impact of Canada’s investment,” Lebel said.

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Federico Burone - IDRC’s Regional Director, Latin America and the Caribbean spoke about the direct impacts that IDRC is having in that region.

Federico Burone regional director speaks at a podium

Burone spoke of the value of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to the economy of the region’s countries where they account for 85% of companies and provide two-thirds of employment. Unfortunately, they are not living up to their potential, particularly for women and in rural areas. IDRC, says Burone, “helps SMEs realize their potential. This, in turn, improves opportunities for individuals and neglected sectors of the population to bring their products, ideas, and work to market.”

Highlighting one project, Burone described social protection programs that are being implemented to help the poor and vulnerable. He noted, however, that because beneficiaries don’t understand how the financial system works, they have difficulty saving, thinking in terms of productive investment, or starting an enterprise.

To address this problem, “IDRC, in collaboration with the InterAmerican Development Bank, the Ford Foundation, and the ministries for social development of Chile, Peru, and Colombia are implementing programs to improve the opportunities for rural women to invest,” Burone said. “Other countries have expressed interest in joining this work.”

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