As the United States and nations worldwide work to build their economies within the context of the global marketplace, the ability to innovate is the most basic and essential underpinning. As I travel worldwide or meet with foreign guests in Washington, D.C., one of the most common questions for me is to describe the U.S. system which leads to innovation. What are the policies which support innovation and what are the practices on the ground which propel innovation? My response always touches on the need to invest in education and scientific research, to value and protect intellectual property rights, and to support a system which allows failures while celebrating success, which seeds promising ideas with funds, and which nurtures future innovators.
If the fundamentals are right, innovation proceeds, economies grow and solutions to tough problems, including energy and food security, improved health and protected environments, are all the likelier to be identified. One of the fundamentals that we need to get right is to inspire young people toward careers in science and technology then to support their creative initiatives in science and technology through all means possible.
Yesterday, I heard Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland echo these very sentiments as part of her acceptance speech of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council on Science for the Environment. As the most recognized champion for the concept of "sustainable development," Dr. Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway and Director-General of the World Health Organization, articulated the critical need for youth engagement in science and technology as we work toward a sustainable future. She called on all of us to support what she called the “Innovation Generation,” those talented individuals who, if inspired and supported with adequate funds, will create the solutions we need to protect the planet while still growing economies.
Two programs supported by the Department of State, USAID, and private sector partners demonstrate our support for novel approaches on innovation. The LAUNCH program is an open competition which invites entrepreneurs to propose new products or solutions for pressing problems, including on global health and new energy sources. Those with the best ideas are mentored through on-line and other means toward product development and patenting.
The Global Innovation in Science and Technology (GIST) program, funded by the Department of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, focuses on building young scientist entrepreneurship capacity in 43 countries of significant Muslim population. Training and mentorship are the core of GIST activities. At the second Global Entrepreneurship Summit held December 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey, 25 teams of entrepreneurs were connected with Silicon Valley mentors before pitching their ideas to a panel judges. These young entrepreneurs were selected as part of the GIST Technology Idea competition which asked the public through YouTube to vote on submitted video pitches. $60,000 in prizes and trips to the United States to meet with investors and business leaders were awarded to the top finishers.
Dr. Brundtland's excitement for the"“Innovation Generation" is a clarion call for all of us working to use science for diplomacy. The Innovation Generation concept is a powerful conversation starter with nations worldwide on how a collective effort could be imagined to spark youth involvement in science and solutions for the future. It reminds us that our programs are an important element of support for the Innovation Generation, but that we can still do so much more. I look forward to continuing the conversation to determine ways that we can do more across the globe to support the "Innovation Generation."