Rio de Janeiro, aka January River or for most, just Rio, has become synonymous with sun, sea, sand and, since The United Nations Earth Summit in 1992, sustainability. For that reason and to help celebrate the UK-Brazil Year of Science and Innovation (an important initiative to celebrate bi-lateral science and innovation cooperation which includes finding an answer to the Zika virus!), I was part of an international gathering under the joint auspices of the Newton fund and the Global Challenge Research Fund.
The Newton Fund was my subject last month, a £1.5B fund to focus on entrepreneurship and the turning of ideas and research into practical innovations to solve the key problems of the developing world.
The Global Challenge Research Fund, GCRF, also totalling some £1.5B, promotes solutions-focussed research that is conducted across traditional disciplinary silos, underpinned by international partnerships and collaborations.
One of the GCRF programmes is Frontiers of Development, FOD, run jointly by the four national academies in the UK, The Royal Academy of Engineering, The Academy of Medical Sciences, The British Academy and the Royal Society.
With two international symposia a year, each brings together participants from engineering, medical, social and natural science backgrounds across industry and academia to encourage interdisciplinary collaborations on global challenges with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals at the heart.
After the symposium, participants are prompted to form interdisciplinary collaborations and to apply for GCRF Networking Grants. The aim is that this will lead to an enhanced reputation for the UK and the development of an alumni network who have lasting and impactful collaborations.
The format is to bring UK-based rising stars in their fields to mix with their counterparts from developing countries to discuss the development challenges and to build new networks. Kigali, Rwanda hosted the first symposium in February 2017. In Rio, the debate centred on the 3 degree rise in ocean temperature, and the impact this will have on coastal communities.
I hope you are astonished by this number, as I was. The chances of keeping ocean temperature rise to 1 degree is vanishingly small, to 2 degrees is less than 10%; so everyone is now planning for 3 degrees and hoping for less!
The event was masterminded by its two joint chairs, both of whom have considerable experience of assessing vulnerability and finding adaptations to environmental shocks.
With their guidance the team from the four academies, assembled a very impressive cast of some 60 early career experts from International, national, NGO, academe and private organisations. The depth and range of the experience and skills was truly mind-boggling. In a series of well-found processes, not unlike design thinking, the group bonded, discussed and suggested new ideas for trying out. These were rated and reduced to an agreed set. Having seen some of the ideas produced by the impromptu teams, I was delighted to announce, in Rio’s iconic Museum of the Future, that the academies had secured seed funding to support the development of the most promising.
I guess it’s well known that I’m no fan of BREXIT but I do think the Newton and Global Grand Challenge Funds are two of the best things to result from it and I’m honoured to be playing a small part in the company of these (mostly) young people.