Thursday, 29 January 2009


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

As we enter the ‘industrious and practical’ Chinese Year of the Ox, the country is emerging as a significant player in global health markets. Margaret Chan has recently become the first Chinese national to lead a UN agency with her appointment as Director-General of the WHO, and on 21 January the Chinese government made a dramatic announcement of its intent to provide free basic healthcare to all of its people in urban and rural areas within three years.

Successful co-operation with this new powerhouse is crucial if we are to meet the three Millennium Goals that relate to health; but there are concerns that increasing Chinese influence could in fact disrupt existing trade relationships and throw regulatory arrangements into disarray.

Gerry Bloom, STEPS Centre health domain convenor, Research Fellow at IDS and Future Health Systems Coordinator will discuss China’s potential impact on global health – for good or ill in a Dangerous Ideas for Development event entitled ‘China and Global Health Markets: Co-operation or Competition?’ and hosted by the All Party Parliamentray Group on Debt, Aid and Trade on 11 February, 18.00 - 19.30 Committee Room 17, Palace of Westminster, London. To reserve your place email Charlie Matthews:
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Wednesday, 28 January 2009


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

As the world's economic leaders gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to thrash out a plan to get economies moving again, members of the STEPS Centre's Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto project are here at the OECD's headquarters in Paris to look at new ways of harnessing this current state of change and flux as an opportunity to help address poverty reduction and sustainable development.

OECD and UNESCO have together organised this event, Innovation for Development: Convertsing Knowledge to Value. The aim, says chair Tony Marjoram of UNESCO, is to share knowledge between developed and developing countries to promote innovation for development and help address the Millennium Development Goals, particularly those that address poverty reduction and sustain development.

The organisers would like us to leave this workshop on Friday with a written agenda for action; the workshop is expected to contribute to the identification and analysis of best practices for the effective promotion, repoting, measurement and assessment of innovation aimed at: coherent approaches to innovation policy; better targetted innovation to help meet global challenges such as climate change, or to cope with the consequences of the global challenges; and the creation and strengthening of the development of human capital, and the use of networks as part of the innovation process.

The two and a half days' worth of discussion is also aimed at feeding in to the OECD Innovation Strategy. And this strategy is very much open to change in the context of the current global financial crisis. Pier Carlo Padoan, Deputy Secretary General of the OECD made the point in his opening address that even if we dealing with areas far away from financal crisis, when crisis over it won’t be business as usual: "This is where this work (on innovation for development) is very important. We have to think about innovation in developing countries as a strategy to rebuild the sustainable growth mechanisms after this crisis.

Mr Padoan said innovation efforts and spending could become casualties of this crisis as governments divert money into fighting the effects of the situation, so huge effort is needed to make sure this crisis does not destroy innovation for development.

"We all need to work together and share knowledge and thinking for new solutions that use innovation as a powerful instrument to tackle development problems."

We look forward to the next couple of days and will see if an action agenda evolves from the discussions here.

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Tuesday, 27 January 2009


For sexual and reproductive health advocates across the globe the inauguration of President Obama promised great things. The Bush Administration’s policy line on sexual and reproductive health and rights at home and abroad has seen funding restrictions that undermined good public health policy and breached legal rights in other countries. Breaking news from the US appears to suggest that President Obama is taking the kind of bold leadership that has the potential to vastly improve sexual and reproductive wellbeing.

Access to safe abortion services
Unsafe abortion accounts for an estimated 13% of maternal deaths. It leaves many more women unwell and disabled. Under the Bush Administration the Mexico City Policy, or Global Gag Rule, mandated that US funds for family-planning services could not go to organizations that advocated, counselled or offered safe abortion. As a result many organisations stopped offering this service and an unquantified number of women turned to unsafe abortion. Every eight minutes a woman dies somewhere in a developing country due to complications from an unsafe abortion. She most likely had little money or support to obtain safe services. She probably first tried to induce a termination herself. Failing that she would have turned to an unskilled, but relatively inexpensive, provider.

An evidenced approach to HIV prevention
According to the 2008 UNAIDS report on the Global AIDS Epidemic there are approximately 33 million people living with HIV worldwide. Under the Bush Administration the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has promoted abstinence only programmes for young people that have denied communities access to crucial information about HIV and AIDS and access to condoms. Condoms are key for protection from the sexual acquisition of HIV and they also help prevent other sexually transmitted infections which also cause ill health, including those that trigger cervical cancer, and can kill. Condoms also prevent unwanted pregnancies and the complications that arise from them. Other Bush Administration policies have prevented financing for needle and syringe exchanges for injecting drug users and forced organisations to sign up to ‘anti prostitution pledges’ that have led to a denial of access to medical services and encouraged stigma and discrimination against these already marginalised groups.

Change we quite like!
Breaking news from the US leads us to believe that one of Hillary Clinton’s first acts has been to ask Mark Dybul, US Global AIDS Coordinator, head of the office in charge of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, to submit his resignation. For more on this see Jodi Jacobsen’s blog on the website. On Friday President Obama, just like his predecessor President Clinton, overturned the Mexico City Policy by executive order. Further refinement of US policy related to sexual and reproductive health and rights – particularly as it relates to injecting drug use and sex work – would herald a welcome shift to evidence informed policy. As Ivan Lewis, Minister in the UK Department for International Development, commented yesterday in a meeting in London, President Obama is, “Sweeping away some of the ideological baggage that has got in the way of health education and prevention.”
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Tuesday, 20 January 2009


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Will Obama’s Administration Make a Difference to Global Citizens?
As President-Elect Obama becomes President Obama, Institute of Development Studies Director Lawrence Haddad explores what this means for global justice.

"The American people largely elected Obama because they believe he has the best temperament and intellect to address domestic economic issues," writes Haddad. "Yes they want America to have a more positive status in the world – but poverty and injustices suffered by those outside the US are not priorities for the vast majority of Americans.

"Will President Obama and his administration really make a difference to global citizens? It is going to be very difficult."

Read the full article
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Wednesday, 14 January 2009


By KATE HAWKINS, Future Health Systems member

STEPS Centre affiliate, the Future Health Systems Research Programme Consortium, is currently meeting in Abuja, Nigeria. Future Health Systems is an international partnership to research and communicate innovations that improve access to quality healthcare for the poor. The meeting has provided an opportunity to bring together private sector innovators and entrepreneurs who are helping to shape the Nigerian health system.

Dr Oluyombo A. Awojobi runs a private primary health care clinic in Ibarapa. The meeting heard how he is using innovative technologies to overcome structural difficulties to provide an acceptable, quality and accessible health service to people in his locality. His clinic runs under testing circumstances. There is no public electricity supply, no municipal water supply and transport is expensive and unreliable. To overcome these challenges Awojobi, a surgeon by profession, has become an inventor and manufacturer of low cost technologies many of which harness natural resources. Awojobi believes that several functional small devices are better than one big device as they cut down on capital, outlay, repair and maintenance.

Overcoming the challenge of a lack of electricity and water
Awojobi has designed his clinic to take full advantage of natural light. There are large windows in the operating room so that they can operate without artificial light during the day. Basins above the operating tables concentrate the light at night.

At night the clinic is illuminated by homemade lamps with rechargeable dry cells. These are charged by the generator during the day and 40 lamps are attached to a car battery at night.

The clinic has a heating furnace which runs on maize cobs. Bio gas made from poultry droppings and cow dung takes the place of kerosene.

The clinic also utilises bought in solar panels. This technology is difficult to replicate as it requires silicone but Awojobi and his apprentice, his son, are looking at how they could do something similar using tin.

To provide a water supply for the clinic Awojobi and colleagues have dammed the stream that runs through the hospital grounds and built wells. They built a ventilation improved pit. VIP, latrine to get over the problem of a lack of water for flushing cisterns.

Building infrastructure and manufacturing medical technologies
A lack of building infrastructure and clinical supplies are often cited as a major barrier to health service access. Awojobi and colleagues have built their own buildings and roads. This was made easier through the creation of a mobile cement mixer fabricated from the rear axle of the car and which revolves 360 degrees in the horizontal plane.

Medical technologies manufactured at the clinic include;
• Wooden operating tables.
• A hematocrit centrifuge fashioned from the rear wheel of the bicycle and that does not rely on a generator.
• A pedal suction pump made out of a bicycle valve.
• A tricycle and village ambulance made out of a motorcycle.

The team have made a water distiller so they have been producing their own saline since 1984. To date they have manufactured over 54 430 litres of normal saline solution, over 3 550 units of acid citrate dextrose solution and about 1 900 liters of 25% dextrose solution. The cost of this has been 10% of that charged on the open market.

The clinic has been running for 25 years and their model has been taken up by others. Despite having published in various journals and trying to communicate and promote his innovations they have not reached the prominence that Awojobi would have liked. They have not been taken up by government and taken to scale. Despite this he remains hopeful about the future of health care in Nigeria,

‘If there are 100 problems in Nigeria then Nigerians can solve them without stepping out of this place. If we can do it with health we can do it with anything.’

For more details contact: Dr. Oluyombo A Awojobi, Awojobi Clinic Eruwa. P O Box 5, Eruwa, Oyo State Nigeria. Phone: +234 802 420 1501 Email:

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Tuesday, 13 January 2009



Bangalore was second location on the STEPS Centre's Knowledge Society debates three-city tour of India,on the 8-9 January. The public discussion in Bangalore, entitled ‘Knowledge Futures in the Innovation City’, touched on a good many subjects including: 'knowledge’ never being innocent or existing alone; there being more to the talk of ‘knowledge society’ than research and development budgets alone; that directions taken by innovation embody wider political choices and carry more pervasive social implications; and that different pathways for agricultural innovation, for example, may empower farmers, seed producers or food retailers in different ways.

Shiv Visvanathan, an advisor with the STEPS Centre, set the debate in motion, positing a challenge to the audience asking them to re-define what they understand by ‘democracy’ in the Indian context. “The crisis faced by the West today, is a battle of the Enlightenments, as the European Union and United States of America seek to construct narratives which can speak simultaneously of science and democracy. We cannot have a celebration of innovation, without also remembering to raise a dirge to obsolescence,” he said.

Obaid Siddiqi, Professor Emeritus at the National Council for Biological Sciences at Bangalore, started by musing about the accuracy of the term ‘knowledge society’, wondering if it wasn’t something of a hyperbole. He then went on to discuss the state of Indian higher education today, and what the probable causes for its dismal state might be.

Sheila Jasanoff from Harvard University and a STEPS Centre advisor reflected on how and why we are poised at a particularly interesting moment in time now. She says “we can now see clearly the ramifications of the 20th century – the emergence of all things ‘mass’ – mass communication, mass entertainment, mass education and mass destruction, all aided by science and technology.” This perhaps makes it apt moment to consider how this has come about and the directions

Physicist Srikanth Sastry of Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research then took the stage, speaking about how private players are on the rise in Science and Technology. “Technological solutions are not ‘complete’ ones – that they might be is an illusion. We need a different imagination for the role of science in India today,” he said.

Andy Stirling, the Co-Director of the STEPS Centre, spoke about the “crucial commonalities facing us today, in the way high-level politics is engaging with what is known as ‘knowledge society’”. He said, “Their definition of it is limiting, though – it is relegated to science and technology exclusively. Which knowledges and innovations to support, how and to what degree, are the most urgent political questions of the hour. We need to open up a more mature politics of choice, if this is going to work.”

The final speaker of the day Vijay Chandru, Chairman & CEO, Strand Life Sciences, said we had to guard against getting “carried away by paradigms that are not necessarily the right or only ones – the terms knowledge economy or society are a reflection of our aspirations to reap demographic dividends. We are a relationship-based culture as opposed to a rule-based one, and we’d do well to remember this difference.”

An engaging public discussion followed, throwing up reflections and questions ranging from the homogenisation of ‘knowledges’ in this day and age, to the impossibility of ‘originality’ in a world increasingly seeking clones, intolerant of deviances from the norm.
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Monday, 12 January 2009



Members of the STEPS centre and several Indian scholars from Hyderabad, India discussed issues around what a ‘knowledge society’ means on 5-6 January.

At the roundtable discussion 5 January, about 30 academicians discussed overarching issues of how controversies around science and technology are issues about democracy, ethics and social relations. This discussion was taken further in the public debate the following day.

Opening the public discussion, Shiv Visvanathan, a researcher at ( and a STEPS Centre advisor, stated that the currently popular model of scientific and technological advancement is being increasingly destabilised in the context of climate change debates. Dr. Balaji from ICRISAT also raised the issue that in the name of scientific creativity a lot of destruction was going on.

Brian Wynne, a Professor at Lancaster University and an advisor to the STEPS Centre, appealed that we should take innovations from below from the civil society seriously to challenge the monopoly of scientific institutions. Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Harvard also an advisor to the STEPS Centre, elaborated on what it means to speak truth to power in the current climate of uncertainty. She powerfully challenged the point that only experts have right to speak about good and bad of science and technology.

Brian Wynne and Sheila Jasanoff in saying this were joining the previous speakers’ discontent about the popular model of science and technology.

Discussing social aspects of knowledge society, Prof. Hargopal, a former Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Hyderabad contended that the rapid advancements in science and technology have created a rupture in social relations. Proposing that the knowledge about society proceeds at slower speed than the knowledge about nature, Hargopal propounded that our understanding of crisis in fact is about the crisis of knowledge, about nature and society.

Dr. Balasubramanian from the L.V.Prasad Eye Institute chaired and moderated the discussion between audience and the panel which covered a variety of issues and concluded the discussion by emphasising the agency of civil society in building scientifically endowed democratic society.

Despite their scope and ambition, visions of a ‘knowledge society’ are fluid, not set in stone. They play out in contrasting ways in different places. In fact, these uncertainties over the direction of change are more than mere expert debates over ‘safety’ or ‘risk’. They are as much ethical, cultural and political as they are technical, economic or scientific. Indeed, it is in shaping these alternative visions for change that ‘knowledge’ becomes truly political,
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By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

A press release lands in the STEPS Centre's in-box announcing: "It’s myth busting time. The myth that lightly regulated global finance capital can generate unending profits and prosperity is well and truly busted by the credit crunch." Well, we can't argue there. But the release is actually about a new book concerned with busting myths of the technological, rather than financial, kind.

The Myths of Technology: Inequality and Innovation, edited by Judith Burnett, Peter Senker and Kathy Walker and published this week discusses whether "technologies are the rational, tangible, scientific forward-looking neutral objects they are so often perceived to be." The blurb goes on: "Technology promises to create an educated, humane and equal world. Although technologies afford us significant and empowering advances, they remain largely cloaked in mystery. And they promise more than they can deliver."

It looks like a promising read, according to the reviewers.Professor Stuart Macdonald of Sheffield University, said: "This is a book to shock devotees of technological progress, a book to depress those in government and industry who have worked so hard to promote a constructive view of technology, a book to infuriate those who police academic thinking. The book should be burnt."

Professor Shapira of Manchester University said of the book: "The editors Judith Burnett, Peter Senker and Kathy Walker have fashioned a distinctive volume that will engage you to think more deeply about the social consequences of new technologies and why new technologies often fall short in meeting expectations."

And in his Forward, Professor Wiebe Bijker of Maastricht University, said: “This volume is very welcome – for scholarly and for political engagement with technologies, innovations and their democratic governance."

For those who fancy a closer look, The Myths of Technology is published by Peter Lang at £15.90. It is in the Digital Formations series ISBN 978-1-4331-0128-1. More details on
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By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

In India, as in Europe, visions of a knowledge society have brought science, technology and innovation to the forefront of politics, democracy and public life. As India positions itself in global high-technology markets and European governments attempt to tame their sceptical public, knowledge society and knowledge economy have become buzzwords in public policy.

But what is a knowledge society? Whose knowledge counts? And how should a knowledge society address risk and uncertainty? These are some of the questions being addressed at a series of debates the STEPS Centre has organised across India - in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi.

"Following the work of the National Knowledge Commission India and Knowledge Society report in Europe, there is much to be learned," said The Times of India, in its report about the events. "Scientists will explore what is common between European and Indian visions of a knowledge society and whether these form a basis for an alternative vision of the global future to that of a borderless market."

The Hindu reported on the Bangalore debate, where Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, US, asked: "The 21st century has brought with it the prefix “mass”, so you have mass communication, mass transport, mass entertainment and not least mass destruction. But has this “massification” necessarily been inclusive?"

Akhila Seetharaman of Time Out Bangalore spoke to Shiv Visvanathan, who will led the responses at the city's debate. “We need to ask how innovation in Bangalore affects Karnataka, how the body of scientific knowledge in the English language relates to science in Kannada," said Visvanathan, "and apart from building advanced science centres, whether we are concerned at all with bringing science to schools and colleges.”

Find out more about the Knowledge Society debates.

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Monday, 5 January 2009


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

As we arrive back at our desks and contemplate bulging email in-boxes, why not put off a return to work just a little longer by taking a couple of minutes out to watch this video? The science, society, development and innovation factoids it delivers give some food for thought as we enter 2009. The video was put together by Karl Finch, Scott McLeod and Jeff Brennan.

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