Cover Image
close this bookSouthern Lights - Celebrating the Scientific Achievements of the Developing World (IDRC, 1995, 148 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentChapter 1 - A northern misconception demolished
View the documentChapter 2 - Is there really science in the south?
View the documentChapter 3 - How the south got left behind
View the documentChapter 4 - Third world achievements
View the documentChapter 5 - Marching to a different drummer
View the documentChapter 6 - Solving global problems together
View the documentChapter 7 - What needs to be done
View the documentAcronyms
View the documentBibliography
View the documentAcknowledgements


For many years, science and technology have been regarded as essential tools for international development. In fact, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) was founded 25 years ago because of the need to promote the science and technology capabilities of developing countries. Maurice Strong, then President of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), who originated the idea of IDRC, said of that era: “I held the very strong conviction that scientific and technological capability was one of the prime differences between developing and more-developed countries. It was this gap - in research and development and its application - that really was fundamental, because today’s research produces tomorrow’s technology, and tomorrow’s technology is the key to tomorrow’s development” (Spurgeon 1979).

Since that time, Canada has supported research in developing countries to the tune of almost CA $2 billion’ through IDRC - only a small fraction of the contributions of other governments and agencies internationally. Generally, however, the public seem unaware of what this financial support has helped to achieve.

This book is meant to give the general reader an appreciation of some notable Third World accomplishments in science and technology. It does not attempt to be exhaustive, nor does it pretend to give a balanced assessment of 25 years of support of research for development. Rather, it is more like a celebration of the scientific and technological achievements of the South - achievements that have not been sufficiently recognized in the North. It also offers an interpretation of some of the historical reasons for the different pace at which scientific and technological development has occurred in the North and the South, and some explanation of how the conduct of science and technology differs between the two.

The author, David Spurgeon, is a science journalist who has worked and traveled extensively in the developing world. The stories that he has assembled in this book cover a wide range of subjects. They illustrate how support for science and technology can benefit both the North and the South. And, as he points out, they show why the scientific contributions of the South are essential to solving some major global problems. But it is important to remember that the picture presented by this book is only part of the development story, and that support for research is only one component of development.

During IDRC’S 25 years, it has become increasingly apparent that, necessary as it is to have scientists capable of doing research in developing countries, it is just as important to have people who know how to make use of the knowledge generated by research. In fact, for social and economic benefits to accrue to developing countries, the capacity to innovate is now considered equally important as the capacity to do research.

The Centre’s founders were not unaware of this need. The Act that established IDRC included the goal of developing “innovative skills” as well as research skills in Third World countries. But it was only with experience that we became more aware of the importance of innovation. This knowledge led to the establishment of a Program of Research in Innovation Systems Management (PRISM) within IDRC, about 2 years ago. PRISM has two goals: to support research on the process of innovation (particularly in developing countries), and to help train Centre staff, who are predominantly scientists, to think of development in this broader context.

This appreciation of the importance of innovation skills has dominated the discussions not only of Centre staff in recent years, but also more recently of the Canadian government as it reviews the efficacy of its CA $7-billion national science and technology effort. At a time of fiscal constraint, when less rather than more money will likely be available from federal sources for support of science and technology domestically, those making national policy are convinced that support of scientific research as such will not necessarily benefit Canadians socially and economically. The principal path to such benefits will be through finding innovative ways to apply the results of research. This is increasingly being realized worldwide by those trying to promote Third World development through science and technology.

Geoffrey Oldham
Science and Technology Advisor
International Development Research Centre
Ottawa, Canada