The Government of Rwanda has taken a bold step by inaugurating a National Commission of Science and Technology (NCST) to advise on, monitor and evaluate, and coordinate science, technology, and innovation (STI) related activities across Rwanda’s economy. The Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) believes that robust, well-planned STI investments and coordination can drive sustained economic development, so it is with great excitement that we announce that GKI has been selected as a partner to assist NCST in developing its Five-Year Strategic Plan. Applying its expertise in strengthening innovation systems as well as a demonstrated commitment to Rwanda’s socio-economic development, GKI will assist NCST in developing and vetting this guiding document.
To set this process in motion, GKI Program Officer Andrew Gerard traveled to Rwanda in May 2014 to assess and map STI-related programs taking place in Rwanda’s economy relevant to NCST. Andrew conducted interviews with key stakeholders throughout the public and private sector, including experts in agriculture, energy, education, and other sectors to identify demand for STI services and to understand how to deliver on this demand. Armed with these insights, GKI will next carry out an analysis designed to guide the NCST on how to maximize strengths, overcome weaknesses, seize available opportunities, and avoid threats. We will then work with NCST staff to develop a Five-Year Strategic Plan. Given the strong trajectory of STI activity in Rwanda and the mutual commitment to leveraging its power for economic development, GKI anticipates a sustained, fruitful, and rewarding partnership with NCST.
Contributors: Caroline Smeallie and Andrew Gerard
“Your presence here is a vote of confidence in Rwandan coffee,” George Kayonga, head of Rwanda’s National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), told Coffee Research Symposium attendees on March 17. A vote of confidence, in this case, as over 150 representatives from academia, private sector, government, and international organizations assembled in Kigali to discuss a challenge threatening to reduce confidence in Rwanda’s high quality coffee. The potato taste defect—thought to be caused by an insect pest called the “antestia bug”—causes otherwise exceptional East African specialty coffee to exhibit a potato-like taste, which impacts the industry’s revenue potential. Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, NAEB, University of Rwanda (UR), and others organized the Symposium to gather a global network of experts to share knowledge on the state of science on this taste defect. Beyond discussing new research, the gathering sought to identify practical solutions to the challenge.
The cost of potato taste to Rwanda’s economy remains in debate, but available numbers present a perilous picture. Matt Smith, head of exporter Rwanda Trading Company, estimates that losses solely due to potato taste—and solely in medium grade coffee—reach at least US$3.9 million annually. Combined with specialty coffee losses, experts estimate this number to be multiple times higher. Rwanda’s government has taken bold steps to combat antestia and mitigate potato taste. At the Symposium, researchers from the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and UR reported on efforts to map the distribution of the antestia bug and potato taste. NAEB—which oversees farmer outreach—described its focus on improving farm-level pest control.
Buttressing these efforts is a global team supporting research on the cause of, and treatments for, potato taste. Since 2012, US non-profit the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) has built a potato taste research network through its LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) program. Starting with UR, GKI built a network of partners including Seattle University; Rogers Family Company; CIRAD; University of California, Riverside; and many others aimed at studying and solving this challenge. Representatives from these institutions presented research on antestia bugs, chemical and biological profiles of the potato taste itself, and variables predicting potato taste.
2013 saw tremendous growth in the scope of GKI’s training. We’ve developed new curricula and trained across several geographies, empowering a growing cohort of worldwide collaborative innovation experts. Most recently, we’ve been training in Malaysia and Rwanda.
In November, GKI-ers Sara Farley, Courtney O’Brien, and Andrew Bergmanson gave a series of trainings at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). Over the course of three days, GKI trained over 20 researchers and 60 students working and studying in fields like mechanical engineering, chemistry, architecture, and human resources. Using a “Training of Trainers” format, researchers were not only instructed in the use of a number of Collaborative Innovation tools, such as Challenge Mapping, but were further empowered to use these tools in their own work, and in their classrooms, to help solve development challenges. In separate sessions, UTM students were introduced to a similar suite of methods and tools. Both students and researchers were able to quickly make use of the skills and techniques they learned during the training at the Community Kickoff Meeting for the UTM-GKI Water Challenge. Continue reading
The Global Knowledge Initiative is proud to announce the commencement of a fourth round of our flagship partnership-forging, LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) program. GKI designed LINK to harness the power of international collaboration to solve development challenges. Specifically, LINK seeks to solve challenges that beckon for scientific and technical research, scientific and technical education, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The LINK process involves four core functions: activating communities of practice, locating resources, enabling sustainable partnerships by learning shared tools and processes for collaborative innovation, and connecting people and resources together into durable purpose-driven networks to solve challenges.
The fourth round of LINK targets researchers from East and Southern Africa working on challenges in the fields of agriculture, food security, water and land management, and/or climate change. Applicants must submit their completed Request for Engagement by January 17, 2013. GKI will announce the winning proposal in Spring 2014, after which the LINK network-formation process will begin.
Distinct from typical research grant programs, LINK eschews traditional methods of delivering development assistance in favor of fostering collaborative networks of stakeholders in the academic, public, and private sectors. The program is not a direct funding mechanism. Rather, LINK provides participants with the tools to solve their challenges: practical trainings in collaboration, communication, and networking; an in-depth analysis of the participant’s challenge context; a small amount of seed funding to initiate partnership formation; assistance in developing a working network; and a design process that helps define specific challenges and determine the best ways to tackle them. Continue reading
Meet Thomas Miller, GKI featured collaborator.
Dr. Thomas Miller is a professor at the University of California, Riverside’s Department of Entomology. Aside from being an eminent leader of the international entomological community, Miller is an important member of the team working on LINK: Rwanda’s “antestia-potato taste” specialty coffee challenge. In partnership with Dr. Susan Jackels at Seattle University who focuses on the chemistry of “potato taste,” a team at Rogers Family Company in California and in Rwanda that sources affected coffee beans and provides support across the network, and Dr. Daniel Rukzambuga at the National University of Rwanda who works to develop national capacity to protect against coffee pests, Dr. Miller focuses on the biology of the microorganisms on the surface of green coffee beans. Dr. Miller also hosts a website dedicated to the coffee challenge. GKI’s Colin Huerter spoke with Dr. Miller in June 2013.
Rwanda is a long ways off – how did you get involved with the project?
I met Nina Fedoroff, co-chair of GKI’s Advisory Board, when I became an AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Fellow in 2011. She had seen some of my research and recommended that I join the team. Even though I had not worked on coffee before, the project immediately grabbed my attention – it seems that no matter who you explain it to, everyone is fascinated. The international aspect drew me in, but at the same time there is a local connection because it also involves California buyers and roasters [such as Rogers Family Company].
The most compelling part is the obvious need for a solution. Although coffee is a crucial export in Africa’s Great Lakes region, researchers have not yet been able to propose a practical application to reduce the potato taste defect. With Rwanda losing a substantial proportion of its crop each year to the defect, eliminating it would have a significant impact. Solving potato taste defect is a difficult task, but that’s why I like it – if it were easy, someone would have figured it out already. Continue reading
Working in conjunction with Rwanda’s Ministry of Education and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, a Global Knowledge Initiative team presented preliminary findings from the Rwanda Science, Technology and Innovation Policy review on June 20 in Kigali, Rwanda. In attendance were various stakeholders representing a range of interests, including university administrators, government officials, and private sector leaders.
The preliminary report focused on impressions of Rwanda’s achievements in STI since the STI Policy was first introduced in 2005, and was based on interviews, surveys, and workshops with over 300 respondents and participants. GKI adopted this approach due to the lack of a clear monitoring and evaluation plan in the original STI Policy; while not as definitive an evaluation as a Policy with strong baselines and targets would have allowed, using stakeholder input did provide a rich portrait of how Rwanda’s economy and innovation system have grown over the past eight years.
After GKI presented the initial findings, attendees broke out into working groups based on the four pillars of the STI Policy: knowledge acquisition, knowledge transfer, knowledge creation, and innovation culture. In each group, facilitators invited feedback on priorities, incentives, and targets for action. This feedback will guide the next steps to be taken by MINEDUC and the National Science and Technology Commission, namely updating the STI Policy and developing an implementation strategy.
The meeting concluded with comments from Dr. Ignace Gatare, Director General of NSTC. Dr. Gatare thanked GKI and participants for their active engagement, and pointed out that the workshop itself was an example of “creating an environment of collaboration that has been a previous challenge of the [STI] policy.” Moving forward, he encouraged attendees to stay engaged with each other, as their genuine spirit of cooperation will be key for Rwanda to achieve its ambition of becoming Africa’s technology hub.
GKI has completed a draft review of the STI Policy Review and will submit it to the Ministry of Education for final review shortly. We are thrilled that we had the opportunity to be involved in this essential process, and hope to see the Government of Rwanda take steps to continue quickly, effectively using STI as a tool for social development.
Contributor: Colin Huerter
Happening Now: A GKI team is headed to Rwanda to work with the Rwanda Ministry of Education and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) to analyze Rwanda’s Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) Policy seven years after its publication. We will identify areas of success, challenges to the policy’s implementation, and work to build excitement around the great opportunities facing Rwanda’s STI system. Although GKI produced a brief analysis of Rwanda’s STI context for our LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) Rwanda program, this analysis will go in deeper depth, and is explicitly designed to bring together Rwanda’s most important innovation system actors. More updates forthcoming!