Peter A. Singer

Peter Singer has dedicated the last decade to bringing innovation to tackling the health challenges of the world’s poorest people. He is well known around the world for his creative solutions to some of the most pressing global health challenges. Dr. Singer is Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada. He is also Director at the Sandra Rotman Centre at University Health Network and Professor of Medicine at University of Toronto.

Science diplomacy recognizes that the most significant threats to the world today—food insecurity, climate change, disease, nuclear proliferation, and so on—transcend national borders, and that scientists have an important role to play in global cooperation towards discovering sustainable solutions. Science diplomacy involves the use of diplomacy to facilitate science cooperation, the use of science cooperation to improve relations between countries, and the use of science to inform policy.

Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Government of Canada, supports bold ideas with big impact in global health. Our core objective is to solve critical health challenges in low- and middle-income countries. We have found that engaging with other countries through science diplomacy has great potential to enhance this core objective. Bold ideas for saving and improving lives can be found everywhere and, by collaborating with governments in low- and middle-income countries, we can stimulate those local ideas and increase their chances for success.

Some examples that demonstrate the potential for science diplomacy to enhance our core objective include our partnership with the Maria Cecília Souto Vidigal Foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation and Grand Challenges Brazil, an initiative of the Brazil Ministry of Health, which has allowed us to open the Saving Brains competition to Brazilian innovators with bold ideas for early child development. Outreach support from the Maria Cecília Souto Vidigal Foundation and Grand Challenges Brazil will help to stimulate innovation, both in Brazil and in other parts of the region. This supports our core objective because it allows us to extend funding opportunities to a larger pool of innovators, thus improving our chances of removing barriers for children to reach their full potential.

Similarly, we have announced a partnership with Peru’s National Council for Science, Technology and Technological Innovation (CONCYTEC) to support more innovators in Peru through the Stars in Global Health program. In addition to co-funding Peru-based Stars in Global Health projects, CONCYTEC will provide outreach support in Peru and will also translate key documents, such as the Request for Proposals and the Proposal Development Resource. By making these resources more accessible to Spanish-language applicants, we will be able to extend funding opportunities to a larger pool of innovators, both in Peru and elsewhere in South America.

Another example is the recent launch of Grand Challenges Israel, a partnership among MASHAV (Israel’s development agency), the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economy and the Prime Minister’s Office.   By focusing Israel’s incredible innovation and entrepreneurship talent on developing world challenges, the initiative helps Israel become the “Start-up Nation for International Development”. Since Grand Challenges Israel is modelled upon and mentored by Grand Challenges Canada, it also shows how Canada and Israel working together can bring benefits to the world.

We have found that engaging directly with innovators and government officials in low- and middle-income countries is one of the most effective methods for stimulating bold ideas for saving and improving lives while reinforcing the democratic values of science. A recent trip to Myanmar is an example of this form of science diplomacy in action (see tweet).  Moreover, the ASEAN region is becoming interested in Grand Challenges as a platform to promote their own joint action against regional challenges like liveable cities and responding to climate disasters.

Our international cooperation is facilitated by Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Relationships. The feedback we have received from Canadian Ambassadors on our science diplomacy efforts indicates that Grand Challenges Canada plays a role in improving relations between Canada and other countries. We’ve been told that our work:

  1. Strengthens Canada’s international brand in innovation
  2. Helps to build Canada’s network with science, innovation and health stakeholders
  3. Provides Ambassadors with a meaningful offering (i.e., our funding opportunities for innovators with Bold Ideas for improving global health)
  4. Aligns development with trade and diplomacy goals
  5. Encourages investments in innovation, which can lead to long-term sustainable job creation and economic growth.

By fostering a network of strong international partnerships, our initial work to align development innovation with science diplomacy will provide a powerful catalyst for solving grand challenges in global health.

We encourage you to post your questions and comments about this blog post on our Facebook page Grand Challenges Canada and on Twitter @FayeElizabeth_W @PeterASinger  @gchallenges