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Uniquely Qualified for Building Multilateral Alliances

Uniquely Qualified for Building Multilateral Alliances

Social networks are one key to scientific innovation.

In one of Malaysia's national newspapers, Abdul Hamid Zakri, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, told the public recently that Prime Minister Najib intends to partner with the New York Academy of Sciences. Najib wants our help in transforming Malaysia into a globally competitive "knowledge-based economy." And he believes we can advance the commitment he expressed at the United Nations in September to stimulate moderation in the Islamic world.

I quote from Zakri's remarkable column: "One area of collaboration is getting the inputs of the NYAS to constitute an International Science Advisory Council to stimulate the advancement of science, technology, and innovation in Malaysia. The government-academia-corporate nexus that is the raison d'être of the NYAS makes it a natural choice to advise us on how to improve our approaches in achieving the New Economic Model, in particular the role of the private sector.

"The Malaysia-NYAS tie-up could also be a timely boost to the prime minister's initiative on the Global Movement of the Moderates as the NYAS is in the midst of brokering an STI Initiative for the Islamic World involving Unesco, Isesco, and member countries of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Among the alliance's aims are to strengthen centres of excellence across the Islamic world, nurturing young and promising researchers in these countries, and to connect them with leading researchers in both the Islamic and non-Islamic regions of the world."

Prime Minister Najib's interest in our Academy is emblematic of a yearning I increasingly encounter across academic, industry, and government sectors to establish multilateral partnerships to increase the impact of their strategic initiatives. The challenges and opportunities of our globalized world are so complex that only multi-stakeholder efforts are seen as robust enough to achieve our common objectives. That is, in part, the logic behind the increasingly popular approach to seeking innovative solutions to scientific problems via incentive prizes and challenges, which you will read about in this edition's cover story.

And, this concept is increasingly understood in the corporate world. Take the pharmaceutical industry. For decades, pharmaceutical companies have relied on bilateral partnerships with academic laboratories and small biotech companies to expand their drug pipelines. Recently, two pharma giants independently approached the Academy hoping that we would broker multilateral partnerships that would engage many, if not all, of the extraordinary academic research groups in New York.

Other industries seeking to scale up their academia-industry partnerships through honest brokers like the NYAS include multinational energy and equipment, telecommunications, and consulting companies. And, recently, companies in the food, nutrition, and health-care sectors have approached us to lead an unprecedented academia-to-industry and business-to-business pre-competitive public/private partnership.

The value of multilateralism is even becoming apparent in academia through what might be termed "one-to-many" and "many-to-many" alliances. An example of the former includes the strategy that was undertaken to quickly establish a high-caliber graduate institute of technology in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) partnered with many world-class universities that will feed undergraduates and faculty to the Jeddah campus in return for research support.

And in a "many-to-many" alliance, the University of Cambridge, King's College London, The Imperial College, the University of Oxford, and University College London have banded together to achieve a scale of talent in the area of translational medicine that is unmatched anywhere in the world. The idea has already proven attractive to industry, and it has enhanced the capacity of its individual members to partner with other multilateral alliances, such as The New York Academy of Sciences' translational medicine initiative.

Few would doubt the efficacy of such partnerships in advancing science, problem-solving, and economic development. And extensive experience in this area puts the Academy in the unique position to offer its multilateral network of experts and institutions to those hoping to reduce the "transaction cost" of partnering.

Which brings me back to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib. He learned that the Academy was asked to lead a highly ambitious effort by the heads of eight pan-Islamic and global institutions to launch an "Islamic World Science Technology & Innovation Initiative."

The participants1 recognize that only an innovative, multilateral approach to capacity-building that includes physical and virtual events and social networks will allow the great population centers of the Islamic world to feed research facilities in the wealthy states so that synergies can be achieved in science, technology, and innovation across the Islamic world.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib rightly argues that economic development won't happen in the absence of scientific and technological development through higher education reform, and that we need to encourage moderation in the Islamic world through economic development. Stay tuned to see if your Academy can play a useful role in this bold vision.

Ellis Rubinstein
President & CEO


1 Islamic World Science Technology & Innovation Initiative participants are: Unesco; Isesco; The Organization of the Islamic Conference's Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation; the Arab Science and Technology Foundation; TWAS–The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World; the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists; the Islamic Academy of Sciences; and The New York Academy of Sciences.