Professor Calestous Juma is professor of the practice of international development and Director of the Science, technology and globalization project at the Belfer Center for Science and international affairs, Harvard University.
Professor Juma answers following questions:
- How do we organize successful partnerships?
- Should partners be organized according to a commodity chain or a territory?
- How do you involve external partners?
- How to make partnerships sustainable beyond funding?
- Do you have a good example?
- Should students produce a business plan instead of a thesis?
- How do we include SMEs in post harvest technologies?
- Are SMEs interested in investing in agricultural products?
- Is it not an illusion to bridge those different working cultures?
- What is a good broker?
Transcript of the interview:
How do we organize successful partnerships?
One of the key things to make sure that partnerships can actually work is to organize them around a specific problem so that they are function oriented rather than mandated oriented. What we tend to do is getting groups of organizations together and we look to their mandates. And we bring them together.
1. What we need is to define the problem and say: given this problem who do I need to bring around the table, so that the partners are brought together according to their competences they bring to the table and not the missions of their organizations.
2. Secondly what we move from basic research to field trials of a product we need different kinds of partners. They may not b the ones when we started off initial research. The partnership and the composition evolves over time when you move from one problem to the next one and you solve it.
3. The sustainability of the partnerships is depended on the chain of problem solving
Should partners be organized according to a commodity chain or a territory?
Partners should certainly be organized according to a commodity chain, not according to a territory. If you organize it according to territory partners become partnerships to block others from doing anything. But when you organize them according to a commodity chain you get at each stage of the chain a different composition of partners. They are not permanent partners as they help to solve the problem. What is permanent is the chain.
How do you involve external partners?
Now it is really important to see African problems as global problems and to think about solutions as also being global. We not have the tools to find out who has been working on which problem? For every African problem there is a Brazilian, a Chinese or an European solution. Any manager of any research institution should be reaching out and use Science an Technology diplomacy, which is to use African Embassies outside Africa to identify people who are working on issues which are relevant to Africa and create connections. The partnerships need to be global.
How to make partnerships sustainable beyond funding?
The key thing is to focus on the chain of activities. When the job is finished you don’t need the partnership anymore. There are a lot of networks in African around many different issues because they were never organized around a particular problem. They meet, they have an annual conference, they have a newsletter but there is no particular problem they are solving. The same organization can rather participate in several different partnerships because it is the competence they are bringing in the partnerships that matters.
Do you have a good example?
NERICA, the new rices for Africa brought a lot of players together : international researchers, agencies and local communities. It uses new tools like video in local languages to communicate information to farmers to create awareness on the availability of the product. Innovation systems capture the idea of how people interact and focus on the interaction to solve the problem rather than bringing the mandate to the table.
Should students produce a business plan instead of a thesis?
I have seen a lot of progress in the last five years among African universities which start to be very creative on how to be commercially oriented and how to solve problems. Examples: Stellenbosch University in South Africa is the first university in the developing world which has build and launched a satellite and introduced an educational system which is very practical. The University of Development Studies in Northern Ghana is doing exactly the same thing of engaging young in agricultural activities. Also NGOs are training people, almost at university level, in solving problems. What is likely to happen is that governments are going to see those initiatives and they are going to change the incentives system for the universities to enable African universities to adapt to problem solving. But not every university should be designed this way. There has to be diversity in universities. And this should be organized on a regional level where universities can specialize according to different roles.
How do we include SMEs in post harvest technologies?
In Africa we have very poor rural infrastructure and have thus no ability to transport. If you have no capability to transport commodities you don’t have the incentive to dry and to store it and to start thinking about post harvest technologies. Post harvest technology is much linked to shelve live and duration of a product. We have been devoting too much time in growing food and less on preserving it. And that is a technological issue. Post harvest technology would create rural technologies on preservation ad that is the link with Small and Medium Size Enterprises.
Are SMEs interested in investing in agricultural products?
There are a lot of firms, commercial firms and banks, looking for areas where they can invest. Especially as African markets expand: with the emergence of the East African common market and banks who are going regional. I meet a lot of investors who tell me: “We are looking for products to invest in”. What is lacking is some mechanism to connect the people who have the resources and the university researchers. There are different cultures and you thus need a link. The culture is that a business man will not take a thing until it has been completed. A researcher does not want to complete anything. He wants to do more and more research. You need bridging institutions that can see a product and say: this one we can move and commercialize it. In many countries universities have technology transfer departments that bridge between the commercial sector and the research community. But it Africa we tend to leave it only to the researchers. If we leave it only to the researchers or only the financers it is not going to work because you need to bridge institutions.
Is it not an illusion to bridge those different working cultures?
It is the only way it works. You have the technology officers and that what’s they do: they bridge. You have the venture capitalists and they also bridge. You have technology brokers: people who broke the technology partnership: that’s their job. If you don’t bridge that ability to bring a product to the market will always be an illusion.
What is a good broker?
A good broker is to be honest and to be trusted.