Obama Administration harnesses innovation to forge diplomatic ties

Officials mark progress, announce new initiatives aimed to promote science worldwide

One year ago, President Obama signaled that his administration would leverage science and innovation to foster diplomacy and cooperation with the Muslim world. During his speech in Cairo, Egypt, in June 2009, President Obama said, "On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. … And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health."

The Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) applauds this commitment to science and innovation diplomacy, as new partnerships and cooperation are central to tackling global challenges such as infectious diseases and other health threats.

Obama Administration officials recently marked the one-year anniversary of the president's Cairo speech, stressing the importance of science and research in forging partnerships with communities around the world. For example, during a speech at the National Academy of Sciences, Maria Otero, under secretary of state for Democracy and Global Affairs, recognized the deployment of the first three US science envoys who have recently traveled throughout the Muslim world to foster scientific exchange.

Otero also announced a new $5 million agreement between the US State Department and the Civilian Research and Development Foundation for a program called Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST). According to Otero, the program has three core pillars—capacity building, information sharing, and promoting innovation and job creation through science and technology. Finally, Otero outlined how the United States is enhancing cooperation with the Organization of the Islamic Conference on health issues such as vaccines and disease surveillance. For example, during the H1N1 pandemic, the United States worked with Malaysia's health, agriculture, and defense agencies to develop a regional capacity to respond to outbreaks.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy also marked the one-year anniversary of President Obama's Cairo speech, recognizing significant achievements in science diplomacy and future endeavors. For example, the US Agency for International Development over the past year has awarded six new Middle East Regional Cooperation projects for research and science cooperation to examine global and regional health, as well as other issues. In addition, three new science envoys will be named by the State Department to focus on Central Asia, East and West Africa, and Southeast Asia.     

Employing science and technology as a key part of diplomacy and cooperation worldwide is crucial to forging new partnerships to address challenges such as global health diseases. By supporting and elevating research and innovation around the world, the Obama Administration can help ensure health gains worldwide and maintain the role of the United States as a consistent leader in science and technology. 

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