Investing in self-reliance: IDRC’s fourth annual public meeting
IDRC support helps some of the developing world’s brightest scientists find new ways to improve the lives of their fellow citizens, said IDRC Chairperson the Hon. Barbara McDougall.
“We also connect Canadian researchers to their colleagues in developing countries, mobilizing them to team up on issues of concern to us all,” she said.
McDougall gave an overview of the Centre’s work as she presided over IDRC’s fourth annual public meeting. About 50 people attended the event, held November 14, 2012, at IDRC’s head office in Ottawa.
IDRC staff helped launch or maintain almost 900 research projects and other activities last year, she said. “As always, our objective is to support homegrown solutions that help make countries less dependent on foreign aid.”
She noted that IDRC programs also help to advance the Government of Canada’s priorities in international development, in areas such as maternal and child health, and food security.
The Hon. Monte Solberg said that he knew little about IDRC when he was first invited to sit on the Board of Governors in 2009.
“Over time, I came to realize that IDRC was doing something I could relate to. It was helping countries and people become self-reliant.”
He recounted his visit to an IDRC-supported project in Guatemala that had found new ways to prevent the spread of Chagas. The disease, transmitted by insects, affects more than 10 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, and kills 10,000 every year.
“It was extraordinarily important, the work that was being done,” Solberg said. “And it was an eye-opener for me … to finally go and see with my own eyes the kind of work that IDRC was doing — and see that it was really having a dramatic and serious impact in a positive way on the lives of so many people.”
IDRC staff, he said, “believe deeply … in the changes that can be made when money is invested in an intelligent way.”
Naser Faruqui, Director of IDRC’s Science and Innovation program, spoke about a pioneering program that seeks to build Africa’s scientific research base, and reverse the brain drain.
The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences puts top students from across the continent through a rigorous 10-month course. They are taught by some of the world’s leading math professors, including Canadians, at centres in South Africa, Senegal, and Ghana.
IDRC administers the Government of Canada’s $20 million contribution to AIMS, which is helping to fund expansion of the network. Since its launch in 2002, AIMS has graduated more than 400 students, from 33 countries. One-third are women.
“AIMS graduates are starting to move into key positions in African research centres, universities, and industry,” Faruqui said.
IDRC President David Malone highlighted several IDRC-supported initiatives that promote affordable solutions to complex health challenges in the developing world.
On behalf of the Government of Canada, IDRC administers the Development Innovation Fund, which supports the work of Grand Challenges Canada. This program is engaging top Canadian researchers in the search for useful tools to tackle health problems in poor countries. It is also bringing developing-country scientists “into the heart of the highest-quality medical research aimed at the diseases and conditions of the developing world,” Malone said.
Another effort, in Nigeria, “focuses on maternal and child health, Canada’s flagship initiative in the field of development,” Malone said. IDRC-supported researchers are helping to spread throughout Nigeria the “best practices” that can save the lives of mothers and their newborns.
Many of these interventions are not expensive, he noted. “Improvements that can be delivered at very low cost are the ones that ultimately are likely to be adopted in the developing world. And those are the ones that very often IDRC has wanted to support.”