Using Science for Humanitarian Aims

The Policy Lunchbox network today heard an extremely interesting presentation from Dr Anu Devi, Projects Coordinator at Science for Humanity. Science for Humanity is a charity, registered in 2007 and based at the University of Oxford, which matches science capability to human needs. Through fostering a network of organisations and individuals, Science for Humanity aims to turn science into solutions to alleviate poverty, advance community development and provide economic benefit to the poor.

Anu outlined the projects which Science for Humanity is currently developing and for which she is responsible. There are six projects in total including ‘Peru Coffee’; a project to improve soil fertility for coffee production on the Eastern slopes of the Andes impacted by deforestation and ‘Green Charcoal’, a project seeking innovative technologies to transform crops such as candlenut seed kernel, palm seed kernel and cotton strokes into green charcoal. A further project examines how science can help to supply clean drinking water to a village in Thailand, purifying the water and removing harmful bacteria such as E.coli. This project in particular demonstrates the importance of working with local people to educate them about the benefits and risks of different interventions; strong public resistance to the use of chlorine in the water means that a policy to introduce such a measure will not work without an education programme to overcome this.

Anu described Science for Humanity as playing a brokerage role between communities, building links and facilitating the exchange of information between those who have identified humanitarian problems (termed ‘seekers’) and those who have the capacity to solve them (scientists, or ‘solvers’). Science for Humanity identifies a project and communicates this to its members (of which there are now around 1,000, joining through the website). Through this mechanism Science for Humanity can match seekers and solvers and hopefully lead to positive outcomes for development.

Although small in scale at the moment, over time Science for Humanity hopes to influence research, aiming to secure funding to support scientists to work on particular projects, and policy making. The organisation envisions changing policy through encouraging the scientific community to think outside their specific research area, encouraging governments (local and national) to consult with scientists and take an evidence-based approach to combating humanitarian problems.

When questioned about scientists’ willingness to get involved with Science for Humanity Anu was very positive, stating that very many scientists wish to apply their research to real-world problems. Science for Humanity’s projects and discussion forums allow them to get involved and do this. Anyone can sign up to become a member of Science for Humanity through the organisations’ website; membership is free. You can also follow Science for Humanity on Facebook and Twitter.

Policy Lunchbox is a monthly forum for policy officers and others to meet one another, exchange ideas and information through free seminars and discussion. The network is maintained by the Biochemical Society and British Ecological Society. Information about forthcoming events is available on the Biochemical Society’s website.