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Practical and effective innovation and research: IDRC’s sixth annual public meeting


Through IDRC, Canada supports research that finds solutions, said IDRC Acting Chairperson, the Honourable Monte Solberg, “solutions that advance global prosperity and security and make life better for everyone.”

“We are about fostering self-reliance — in people, institutions, and countries,” he told IDRC’s 2014 Annual Public Meeting, held November 19 in Ottawa. “I am delighted to chair the Board of an organization that reflects Canadian values so well.”

Strong track record

“Today, we want to tell you about how IDRC invests Canadian tax dollars in smart ways,” he said. Providing an overview of recent work, he noted that Centre staff launched or maintained almost 800 research projects in the past fiscal year. IDRC received close to $203 million from Parliament in 2013-2014 — about 4% of Canada’s aid budget — and used it to help raise almost $60 million more from other donors, Solberg said.

This was a banner year for partnerships with other donors, he noted, with nine new funding agreements signed. In addition, two large collaborations were renewed: the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF) and the Think Tank Initiative (TTI).

“IDRC’s strong track record of support for practical and effective innovation and research was critical to the decisions by other funders to re-commit to these major programs,” he said.

Broadening our impact

Solberg reflected on a recent trip to Africa with IDRC President Jean Lebel and fellow Governor Gordon Houlden, Director of the China Institute and Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta.

“One goal was to meet new partners who can help us multiply the reach of Canada’s investment in innovation and development,” he said. “Increasingly, we are leveraging partnerships to broaden and deepen our impact.”

Throughout the trip, he said, he was impressed by IDRC’s ability to bring together senior people from governments, the research community, and private sector, to find common ground in tackling “some of the toughest, most urgent problems.”

“We met many former IDRC grantees who are now influential leaders in their own countries, in government, science, and business,” he said. “This is good news in itself, and has also helped to build important connections for Canada across the developing world.”

Advancing development priorities

In his address, President Jean Lebel described IDRC’s support for research in three broad areas: agriculture and environment, social and economic policy, and science, technology, and innovation.

“In the past year, IDRC funded research engaging 674 institutions worldwide, including 111 universities and other research organizations in Canada,” he said.

IDRC both responds to the needs of developing countries and helps to advance Canada’s science and innovation goals and international development priorities, Lebel said.

For example, since 2009 IDRC has teamed up with Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada on the $124 million food-security research program known as CIFSRF, putting into action the government’s pledge to help address global hunger.

Scaling up innovations

“In just a few years, CIFSRF research has already directly engaged and benefited 97,000 farmers in developing countries,” he said. “And those farmers have helped to field-test more than 130 innovations that have increased productivity and incomes, and improved diets.

“Our goal now — our achievable goal — is to find ways of joining forces with other partners to massively increase the number of farming families who benefit from these achievements,” he said.

Looking to the future, Lebel noted that IDRC is preparing to embark on a new strategic plan that will chart the Centre’s path from 2015 to 2020. “The international landscape is changing,” he said. “But our new plan will ensure the continued relevance, value for money, and impact of IDRC-supported research for development.”

Respond to national needs

Peter Taylor then presented the story of a remarkable network of independent research centres helping to guide economic and social policy decision-making across the developing world.

Taylor, who leads the Think Tank Initiative at IDRC, explained that most research funding is short term and tends to reflect donor priorities rather than those of the country where the challenges arise.

“TTI gives core funding to a select group of think tanks, as it gives them the flexibility to develop their own research agendas that respond to national policy needs,” he said.

Six donor partners have committed more than $200 million to the 10-year program, which provides core funding to 43 think tanks in 20 countries. Taylor noted that every dollar of Canadian government money invested in TTI since its launch in 2008 has helped to raise $11 from other donors.

Global policy debates

The think tanks are making contributions that both help to shape national policies and closely align with Canada’s foreign policy priorities, he said. For example, through their research, FUNDAUNGO in El Salvador is advancing democracy and good governance, Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute is putting food security on the national agenda, and the Ethiopian Development Research Institute is helping to improve maternal and child health.

Increasingly, the Think Tank Initiative supports developing-country institutions in forming strong partnerships that extend their reach to the global policy level, Taylor said.

TTI-funded think tanks are currently bringing developing-world perspectives to the international consultations on follow-up commitments to the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals. “They are having considerable traction in high-level debates on the post-2015 development agenda,” he said.

Watch the video of IDRC's 2014 Annual Public Meeting

(59:30 mins)

  • The Honourable Monte Solberg, Acting Chairperson, IDRC Board

  • Jean Lebel, IDRC President (7:00)

  • Peter Taylor, Program Manager, Think Tank Initiative (22:15)

  • Questions from the audience (34:10)

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