Dr. Shah at yesterday's opening plenary session of Transforming Development through Science, Technology and Innovation. Credit: USAID/Bethany Egan

Dr. Shah at yesterday's opening plenary session of Transforming Development through Science, Technology and Innovation. Credit: USAID/Bethany Egan

Below, please find a quick read-out from yesterday’s fascinating opening plenary session of USAID’s groundbreaking conference entitled: Transforming Development through Science, Technology and Innovation.

In front of a high-powered audience of science, development, and Federal government experts, Dr. Shah began the evening’s discussion by expressing his enthusiasm for the conference’s goals and urged participants to think strategically and across sectors about how we can better deploy science, technology, and innovation (STI) to further development in high-impact and scaleable ways.  He stressed the need to quickly move advancements “out of the lab and on the ground.”  And Dr. Shah encouraged the group to think about how we partner with private industry to create sustainable, scalable development that will bring lasting change to individuals around the world.

Dr. John P. Holdren, the President’s Science Advisor, noted that President Obama will be “paying close attention to the results” of the conference and will look for ways to take concrete actions on conference recommendations in the days and months to come.

The session concluded with a fascinating discussion about the “Grand Challenge” in development.  Administrator Shah asked participants to define what they see as a critical and difficult development need that could be unlocked through science and technology.  The ideas offered ranged from granular and local to overarching and global and included how we can:

Encourage private sector ventures that allow our work to be sustainable and scaleable

Develop in-country capacity for production of materials, such as vaccines

Create holistic local solution sets for energy, food, water, health, and education

Better market new technologies in the developing world to increase acceptance and usage

Deliver relevant and useful school materials to every pupil

Work with linguistic differences rather than around them, especially with regard to mobile texting services

Ensure that healthcare providers have access to healthcare records within one hour of a patient visit

Support existing transnational industry hubs in sub-Saharan Africa

Install high-quality, deployable irrigation systems where replacement parts are locally accessible

Better utilize mobile technology to obtain timely, relevant feedback on development projects from local recipients

Other luminaries from this field who spoke at the session include:

Dr. Alex Dehgan, Conference Co-chair and Science and Technology Advisor to the Administrator, USAID

Dr. Rick Klausner, Conference Co-chair, Managing Partner for The Column Group, and former Executive Director for Global Health at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Dr. Y.S. Rajan, Professor for the Indian Space Research Association

Dr. Elias Zerhouni, Presidential Science Envoy

It was inspiring and fascinating to see the wide mix of attendees’ approaches, ideas, and areas of specialization and backgrounds.   There was tremendous energy in the room when we left and a lot of optimism about what today’s discussions will yield.

We’ll share more updates as the conference continues throughout today.