IDRC Boosts Canada’s international R&D with launch of $10.5M innovation program
December 22, 2005
By Debbie Lawes
The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has launched a new $10.5-million program designed to strengthen science and technology policies in developing countries, and leverage millions in additional dollars from research granting councils in Canada. The new Innovation, Policy and Science program is also working closely with the Office of the National Science Advisor on how Canada can meet its commitment of devoting 5% of national R&D spending towards issues of the developing world.
Heading the new program plank is Dr Richard Isnor, the National Research Council’s (NRC) former director of biotechnology horizontal initiatives and interdepartmental relations. At IDRC, he is responsible for establishing new mechanisms and incentives to link international researchers to Canadian funding sources.
One of those new mechanisms is a $5.5-million Challenge Fund, which will leverage funding and other resources from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) along with other granting councils and agencies. Isnor hopes the Fund will grow to about $11 million annually.
“It’s a mechanism to try to provide a financial incentive from IDRC to entice other Canadian granting councils and research funding organizations to join with us in new research consortia that can fund Canadian and developing country research teams or networks,” says Isnor. The IDRC funds will support researchers from developing countries while domestic grants would enable Canadian researchers to participate on international teams.
The Challenge Fund supports the Global Health Research Initiative (GHRI) – an existing partnership between CIHR, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Health Canada. IDRC and CIHR are also co-funding the new Teasdale-Corti Global Health Research Partnership, which will provide teams of Canadian and international researchers with at least $12.5 million over the next five years for partnership grants, career development and networking to improve health systems abroad. The deadline for letters of intent is January 16, with full proposals due June 30.
|“There are very few programs out there that bring together an international development agency (CIDA), a development research agency (IDRC), a domestic research granting council (CIHR) and a domestic science-based ministry (Health Canada) to work together on a common international agenda.” |
— Dr Richard Isnor, director,
Policy & Science/Innovation, IDRC
Isnor says the Challenge Fund could be expanded to support additional initiatives, such as international climate impacts and adaptation research. “It’s an area we would like to explore. We may talk to the Climate Atmospheric Foundation at NSERC (Science and Engineering Research Canada), or Natural Resources Canada or Environment Canada. We’ll find the right combination of institutions to talk to depending on what the strategic issue is.”
HOW CANADA CAN MEET THE 5% CHALLENGE
This year, prime minister Paul Martin committed “to devote no less than 5% of our R&D investment to a knowledge-based approach” to international development (R$, February 7/05). Canada currently spends about $150 million annually in this area, an amount that IDRC says should be at least double to reach 5%.
To help meet this target, the federal government provided IDRC with $9 million in new funding for this current fiscal, representing an 8% increase to its base budget. Similar increases are expected over the next few years as part of Canada’s commitment to double overseas development assistance by 2010.
But IDRC president Maureen O’Neil cautions that more funding is needed. The solution, she suggests, is for the domestic research agencies to work with IDRC and CIDA to create a larger funding pool for issues of common concern in developing countries. This could include new initiatives between IDRC and NSERC, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Genome Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.
“If you image what we’ve done with the GHRI happening with the social sciences or genetics, and more happening with NSERC and the NRC, then you could imagine that research pot being filled with more than just IDRC,” she says.
Isnor will play a key role in developing these new alliances. While at the NRC, he was responsible for building stronger linkages between the organization’s institutes and other government departments and agencies. He will now use that experience at IDRC to build bridges between research funders and the larger Canadian science policy community.
For example, IDRC has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Science Advisor’s office to develop a more comprehensive action plan for meeting the 5% challenge.
“We have been working with Dr (Arthur) Carty’s office to develop a statistical analysis carried out by StatsCan to get a better data set on what Canada, including the private sector, is spending on R&D in support of development,” says Isnor.
NEW FUND TO SUPPORT S&T POLICY RESEARCH
IDRC also plans to spend $5 million annually to help poorer countries formulate and implement science and innovation policies. The new program, tentatively titled Innovation and the Democratization of Technology, will see grants awarded to researchers in developing countries to study science and innovation policy questions, particularly relating to foundational technologies like the Internet, biotechnology and nanotechnology.
IDRC has made modest investments in S&T policy in the past in countries such as Chile, Vietnam and China. It is currently working with the government of Mozambique to develop an S&T strategy for that country. The initiative is being led by the new minister of R&D, a former IDRC researcher and recipient of an IDRC graduate scholarship.
“You can’t have a functioning innovation system in any country if there are core foundational aspects missing, whether it’s mechanisms for providing good science advice to government, sound science reporting in the media, establishing a scientific culture, or building public understanding of science,” explains Isnor.
A five-year plan for the S&T policy program will be presented to IDRC’s board of governors for approval in June.