The cutting edge of science and technology is rapidly moving to address questions of global importance: How do we conserve ecosystems and protect against the spread of emerging infectious disease? How do we increase agricultural yields while decreasing the environmental footprint of agriculture? How do we better predict natural disasters, ranging from global climatic disruption, to floods, to earthquakes?
The National Science Foundation (NSF) invests tens of millions of dollars each year in projects that take U.S. scientists and engineers to developing countries to conduct research with their international colleagues on these very issues. NSF resources, however, are almost entirely provided to the U.S. side of such collaborations, limiting the ability of projects to reach their full potential and fully engage developing country partners.
On July 7, 2011, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah joined the NSF Director Subra Suresh to announce a new partnership between their two agencies aimed to address this gap. (Read more on this press release and on the corresponding NSF press release).
The Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program will provide USAID resources to support developing country scientists and build partnerships with NSF-funded American scientists. The PEER program is now open for proposals from developing country scientists to fully realize the potential of research-driven development. For more information, see the PEER program solicitation and announcement on the National Academies website.
With assistance from the National Academies, the PEER program will accept and competitively select research proposals that leverage NSF-funded projects to accelerate solutions to our global development challenges. Examples of proposal topics may include the following areas:
- Food security topics such as agricultural development, fisheries, and plant genomics
- Global health issues such as ecology of infectious disease, biomedical engineering, and natural/human system interactions
- Climate change impacts such as water sustainability, hydrology, ocean acidification, climate process and modeling, and environmental engineering
- Other development topics including disaster mitigation, biodiversity, water, and renewable energy
PEER funding may be used to train students and faculty, equip laboratories and field stations, and fund research, leveling the playing field between developing country scientists and American scientists and building scientific networks to address global challenges. By increasing global capacity for science and technology, USAID can address serious problems that fail to respect political boundaries, that require a concerted approach, and that can affect American security at home and developing nation stability abroad. Through strengthening scientific networks and building collaborations, we will advance global understand of problems that are complex in scope, but also enhance the capacity of developing countries to address their own problems and increase self-sufficiency and security.
Our hope at USAID is that PEER energizes the global university community to be more idealistic, more interdisciplinary, and more globalized, than ever before, and captures that energy to address the big problems of our time: the next moon-shot, addressing arsenic problems in water in South Asia, or biodiversity loss in marine ecosystems in the Philippines. USAID and NSF seek to inspire the next generation of U.S. scientists and engineers to focus on problems that have impacts on the livelihoods of those in the developing world. PEER provides that opportunity.
When the USAID-NSF partnership that initiated the PEER program was announced in July 2011, Dr. John Holdren, the Director of the White House Office of Technology and Science Policy, noted that he was “delighted to see these two agencies collaborating to further President Obama’s goals of strengthening America’s science and technology enterprise and applying its outputs to challenges both domestic and global. This partnership will help particularly with the application of science, technology and innovation to accelerate global development, with huge benefits for industrialized and developing countries alike.”
The PEER program, the first of what we hope will be many fruitful programs resulting from the collaboration between USAID and NSF and will promote USAID’s efforts to build stronger partnerships with other federal science agencies to achieve development results.
More details on how to participate in the PEER program are available on the National Academies website. We encourage the scientific community in the United States and abroad to begin planning your joint research activities that will make a huge impact on the global development challenges of our world.