Rewarding Scientific Knowledge for Sustainable Development

By Tanaka, Aurea | UN Chronicle, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Rewarding Scientific Knowledge for Sustainable Development

Tanaka, Aurea, UN Chronicle

Sustainable development is a critical issue in the management of global survival and environmental preservation. Increasingly, it is extending its reach across a broad multidisciplinary policy canvas, impacting economic, social, and cultural spheres aimed at securing an improved quality of life for the international community.

Access to sustainable health care, education, and food and water is one of the important sustainability challenges society faces, and it is in these fields that three young researchers recently received accolades for their cutting-edge work. Arul Chib has been using information and communication technology (ICT) as a tool for providing medical information (mobile health) and learning opportunities to children and youth in remote communities; Rajeev Bhat's research on wild legumes explores nutritious and available alternatives to food supply based on local practices and traditional knowledge; and Junguo Liu's work on water and ecosystem services strives for a more sustainable approach to water consumption.

The awardees' applied research and contribution to the communities they are connected with are a common feature of the ProSPER.Net-Scopus Young Scientist Award in Sustainable Development, given annually to young scientists and researchers based in Asia and the Pacific.

The award is a joint initiative of ProSPER.Net, an alliance of higher education institutions located in Asia-Pacific, created under the auspices of the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Programme of the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies, and Elsevier, a publisher of academic information, mainly through Scopus, the largest database of peer-reviewed literature.

ProSPER.Net aims to integrate sustainability issues in different fields of postgraduate curricula, with the award categories changing every year so to promote applied research in similarly different fields of endeavour.

For 2011, the awarded categories covered the areas of ICT for Sustainable Development, Science and Technology with a Focus on Poverty Eradication, and Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management. A panel of three experts in each of the areas selects three finalists to present their work at a symposium, as part of the judgment process. In 2011, the University of the Philippines hosted the symposium and award ceremony in mid-July.

The criteria applied to select winners comprise the number and quality of publications and patents, the number of citations of their work as well as documented social impact. Winners receive a cash award and a fellowship provided by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, allowing them to spend tip to a year collaborating with any institution of their choosing in Germany.

"The ProSPER.Net-Scopus Young Scientist Award plays an important role in encouraging young talented researchers to work in sustainable development. There are not many avenues for recognition and support for young academics in this area; government and industry support is much more common for more obviously profitable areas of research", said Ed Cutrell, panelist of the ICT for Sustainable Development category in 2011. He further argued that "The Young Scientist Award is a small but important effort to recognize excellence in academic research in sustainable development, with the particular goal of recognizing work that has a real impact on people's lives."

Although scientists are stereotyped as staying in their laboratories, focused on research to find solutions for specific problems affecting humanity, the three young awarded scientists went beyond academia, looking at the world's current problems, creatively, to obtain outcomes that ultimately promote social inclusion, improve livelihood in general, and poor communities in particular, and in the process, stimulate a better understanding and use of natural resources.

Aware of the need to influence policy in order to scale up local solutions developed and implemented in their communities, the winning researchers are also connecting with different stakeholders, including local authorities, national government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector and international organizations, in the policy-making processes, advising and providing scientific knowledge through research. …

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