From Sunday 23 September 2012

I found myself at a BOND event at the Lib Dem party conference Fringe on Sunday evening. Sadly no martinis or Daniel Craig, but a very interesting debate: Beyond Aid – A Liberal Democrat approach to International Development.

Like many others of the Comic Relief generation, I was interested to learn that although a Bill has not (yet) been passed, the coalition government has pledged to see through provisions for 0.7% of GDP spend on international development.

But what will future UK international development work look like?

During the debate, we heard about the coalition governments’ ‘business oriented’ approaches to aid, which place more emphasis on transparency, results, and roles for the private sector. We also heard calls for accountability to the poor.

In our own work with developing countries, which includes science capacity building in sub-Saharan Africa (funded by DfID) and work with the national science academies of Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia (funded by Pfizer), the Royal Society has found that local scientific capacity is essential if we are to make real progress towards some international development goals.

Scientific capacity is critical to enabling local action on a diverse range of problems from climate change, to advances in agriculture, health and poverty reduction. But it is also key to developing skills for local innovations, and longer-term economic growth.

There may well be a sensible threshold for prioritising international development interventions based on science, and experts may be right to be cautious about adding science capacity building to the ‘shopping list’ of future priorities for international development.

But for some developing countries, could investment in science and innovation capacity building be seen as a potentially progressive tool for development and longer-term sustainable growth, just as it is in the UK?