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Photo of Dr. Subra Suresh

Dr. Subra Suresh
National Science Foundation

NSF-USAID Memorandum of Understanding Signing Ceremony

National Science Foundation

July 7, 2011

Photo by Sandy Schaeffer

A video of the NSF-USAID MOU siging ceremony is available.

Good morning, everyone. It is a great pleasure to welcome this esteemed group of individuals representing a number of U.S. government agencies, universities, foreign embassies, eminent science organizations, and members of the media.

I want to start by introducing the Chairman of the National Science Board, Dr. Ray Bowen. Thank you for joining us.

Our first speaker this morning, Dr. John Holdren, deserves a lot of introduction but needs none. It's hard enough to do one job in Washington, but John does three for the price of one. He's the Science Advisor to the President of the United States. He's the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. And he's the Co-Chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Dr. Holdren is a tireless advocate for the advancement of science and an extremely powerful spokesman for global science engagement. On a personal note, it has been my great pleasure to work with John for the last nine months. So, please join me in welcoming John for his remarks this morning.

[Holdren delivers remarks; Suresh takes podium to speak]

The National Science Foundation has long been our nation's engine of innovation. It is the overarching source of federal support for fundamental research across all science and engineering fields that drive market-viable innovation. This support becomes even more crucial to innovation as multidisciplinary research becomes increasingly possible, productive, and prevalent. The nation's commitment to research will also take on a more globally connected context as the major issues and problems we face know no boundaries. This will in turn require strategic alliances, not just abroad but right here in Washington, DC.

We know that many of today's most pressing research challenges are global in scale, including decreasing clean water resources, global weather disruption, geohazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and food security. These complex problems cannot be addressed effectively without concerted international effort, effort that often requires U.S. scientists and students to travel across the world -- from central African rainforests, to the glaciers of the Andes and Himalayas, to the coral reefs of Indonesia, and to the extreme conditions of the Polar regions.

Students today are going to work in an increasingly globalized world, more so than their parents and grandparents. It's not just the science, the theory, the experiments, and the equations that are critical for their success. Equally important are awareness of geopolitical conditions, cultural differences, even cultural similarities, and differences in perspectives and points of view. And science is non-political, no matter where you go.

Science is also increasingly multidisciplinary, multi-national, multi-institutional, multi-cultural, multi-scale, and, as today's event illustrates, multi-agency-funded.

Since the NSF/USAID partnership was launched in 2008, the agencies have worked together on an informal basis. This partnership was launched by my predecessor, Dr. Arden Bement, who joins us here today. Arden, thanks for joining us. In his efforts to initiate this early interaction, he was also assisted by Drs. Nina Fedoroff and Henrietta Holesman-Fore. Their collaboration laid the initial foundation for what we are expanding and significantly strengthening today, through the new NSF-USAID collaboration framework, or PEER.

The previous relatively informal relationship between NSF and USAID resulted in a small number of jointly or concurrently funded research projects. However, it was clear that, absent a formal mechanism for cooperation, these relationships were not as effective as they could be.

Thus, the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research, or PEER, breaks new ground because it establishes a competitive grants program for the partners of NSF-funded scientists abroad. It leverages significant NSF funding from U.S. institutions so that dedicated resources are now available for scientists from developing countries.

Many other countries around the world are experimenting with partnerships between their science funding agencies and their development assistance agencies. In fact, I will be visiting with the G8 heads of science funding agencies next week and this is one of the topics that they will discuss.

Japan, Canada, and a number of European countries are using various approaches to address this global opportunity for engagement. With the launch of PEER, we hope that our collective lessons-learned will be shared to enhance our collective ability to collaborate globally.

NSF's partnership with USAID provides an important milestone to fully embrace new opportunities and to capitalize on each others' strengths and knowledge.

NSF-funded scientists currently conduct fundamental research in nearly every country where USAID is active. NSF-funded scientists are conducting research on predicting seasonal climate anomalies over Eastern Africa, understanding weather-ecosystem interactions on the East Asian steppes of Mongolia, and assessing risk for earthquakes and tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. We are collaboratively modeling eco-epidemiology of Leptospirosis in Latin America, predicting vulnerability of tropical and temperate stream biodiversity in the Andes, and convening a solar energy workshop in Cairo. NSF-USAID collaborative projects also have included partner countries such as Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, and Nepal.

These are but a few of the hundreds of research awards NSF makes each year to U.S. scientists and their students who are working on global research questions.

PEER promises to facilitate international science engagement with developing countries. It represents the missing link to support developing-country collaborators and help them build research and human capacity in their own countries. At the same time, it helps U.S. scientists develop new infrastructure that they might not have access to otherwise.

Today, I am extremely pleased to launch, with Dr. Rajiv Shah, this new collaboration between the National Science Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development. This partnership will strengthen NSF's ability to promote effective research collaboration between U.S. scientists and scientists from developing countries, while also serving the development goals of USAID.

NSF will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide this new framework for many avenues of collaboration.

Through PEER, USAID will provide resources for researchers and educators in developing countries to collaborate with NSF-funded scientists whose research awards have been made as a result of rigorous merit review. PEER builds upon NSF's commitment to science excellence and USAID's accomplishments in international development. This collaboration will offer the U.S. science community and their developing-country partners an opportunity to achieve research excellence in new ways.

Research undertaken by U.S. scientists internationally is most successful when their foreign counterparts engage fully as equal partners. Lack of funds for scientific research and education often prevents host-country researchers from participating fully in cooperative research activities. This joint effort will help U.S. scientists form sustained collaborations, while creating opportunities for partners abroad to add their own expertise and know-how to research activities.

To begin construction of this foundation, NSF has been requested by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to take the lead in planning a Merit Review Summit in 2012. NSF's international reputation for scientific integrity will facilitate reaching the goal of setting a high premium on the necessary ingredients for healthy scientific competition and collaboration. This is crucial to generating useful new knowledge, and it will serve the S&E enterprise of both developed and developing countries now and in the long term.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the Administration and Administrator Shah for making Science and Technology one of the pillars of the USAID Forward reform agenda. We are delighted with the appointment of Dr. Alex Dehgan to lead the new USAID Science and Technology Office and serve as the first science advisor at USAID in nearly two decades.

All of us at the National science Foundation look forward to working with our colleagues at USAID to continue to make this a highly successful and productive relationship. I am pleased to extend a warm welcome to Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of USAID, who will provide additional details about PEER and USAID's renewed commitment to science.