University of Cambridge > > Seminars on Sustainable Scenarios > IMAGINE ... Working Together on Technology Solutions for Developing Countries

IMAGINE ... Working Together on Technology Solutions for Developing Countries

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Imagine was set up as a novel communication and awareness programme to raise enthusiasm for science and technology amongst the public. In an annual competition scientists are challenged to develop useful applications of their research for developing countries. Together with school students these ideas are tested and developed into a Business Plan. Each year during a scientific conference a winning plan is selected to be carried out. Over the years the Imagine programme has shown that both scientists and school students are highly motivated to work on projects for developing countries, but that they need encouragement and assistance to develop their ideas. Because the project feeds back to the scientific community and aims at maximum media attention it addresses important issues of scientific responsibility in global development.

Imagine started in 2004 with as winning project, the production of biodiesel from algae in Mozambique. This project was implemented with initial funding from the Imagine programme, but later attracted substantial more funding from various sources. In 2005 a farmer developed the extraction of avocado oil from overripe avocadoes in Kenya and in 2006, the redevelopment of a plantation in Surinam to produce valuable colouring compounds was selected to be realised. In 2007 the plan to grow mushrooms on waste materials won to be carried out in Ghana. The success of the competition has led to the establishment of the Imagine Life Sciences Foundation which is liaised to the Delft University of Technology (3,4).

Imagine is not only based on applications of sound science in developing countries, it has also developed from novel insights in science communication studies. From the biotechnology debate of recent years in Europe we know that the vast majority of people generally are not really interested in science, do not understand it and do not want to unless they have a personal need to. In spite of many attempts to increase public interaction and dialogue, opinions remain unheard as most are not attracted or affected by these rather rational attempts. Imagine uses what I have called the Three-E model: Entertainment (getting attention), Emotion (identification) and Education (information and skills for (future) decision-making). The students are keen to be involved in the contest, are very motivated when they identify with the problems in developing countries for which they need the science. Its emotive combination of school children working with scientists on developing country applications certainly appeals to the media and hence via it demonstrates the science and its beneficial use in developing countries to the much larger group of people who cannot otherwise be reached. The Three-E model is a simple approach applicable to many kinds of issues and not limited to biotechnology alone.

Patricia Osseweijer has a PhD in science communication and a masters degree in molecular biology. After several years of management at the Department of Biotechnology of Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands she was appointed as Managing Director of the Netherlands public-private partnership Kluyver Centre for Genomics of Industrial Fermentation in 2002. Driven by her interests in the responsibility of scientists in society and their role in public interaction she initiated a new research and education group on society issues in biotechnology. As Programme Leader of the Society programme in the Kluyver Centre she developed an integrated social science programme which aims to define and quantify future societal issues to develop novel forms of public communication.

This talk is part of the Seminars on Sustainable Scenarios series.

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