Launch of the Second Year of the ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellows Program

Mr. Larry Maramis, Director of the Cross-Sectoral Cooperation Directorate, Representatives from the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology, the ASEAN Centre for Energy, the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, and the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN-U.S. Science & Technology Fellows, both our first year trailblazers, and our new Fellows, AAAS Representatives, supervisors, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome all of you this morning and say how happy I am to be here with you.  I am truly excited about the way the ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellows Program is developing and expanding.

The United States is so pleased to partner with the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology and the ASEAN Secretariat to increase links between science, technology and policy within ASEAN.  I am personally so happy because I have a great regard for scientists and actually have my undergraduate degree from Yale in biology, not political science.

The ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellows Program provides amazing opportunities for early career scientists who are ready to explore how to apply science for policy-making.  I don’t think I need to tell this audience how important science and technology are for solving policy problems, whether in domestic policy, foreign policy or development.  As President Obama once said  we can “harness the power of science to achieve our goals – to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.”

I am a diplomat, so I think about how integral science is to solving the biggest foreign policy challenges we face. Whether we can forge a deal with Iran over its nuclear program depends in part on a very scientific set of questions about the enrichment of uranium. Whether we can address the challenges of ocean degradation hinges in part on our ability to invent solutions, for example, the perfect biodegradable plastic bag.  And, of course, climate change is perhaps the broadest and biggest challenge of all.  Measuring it and addressing it comes down to science and technology.

Before I talk about this wonderful program, I want to tell you about something new we are doing in the U.S. We have begun to look at major development challenges in a new way. We believe that science, technology, and innovation and partnering with private sector and academia can accelerate development impact and achieve better results at less cost.

Within USAID, our development agency, we have set up the “Global Development Lab” that is utilizing science and technology to find new solutions and scale them up so that they can benefit more people.  And we are inviting a wide range of partners to co-create solutions, rather than trying to design solutions entirely in-house or contract them out.

We utilized this new model during the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa and issued a “Grant Challenge” to seek solutions for improved health care worker tools.  The result was a discovery to help limit the exposure to the virus for healthcare workers.  The Scripps Institute in partnership with 3 private companies created “wearable patient sensors” that are disposable, Bluetooth-enabled sensors that attach like a Band-Aid and allow for remote monitoring of Ebola patients’ critical vital signs so healthcare workers could maintain a safe distance.  Smart policies like these that encourage cooperation by government, academia, and the private sector will also help ASEAN Member States harness the intellectual and creative energies of their populations and support ASEAN’s integration and connectivity goals.

This is why we have made supporting science-based policy a key component of our ASEAN-U.S. Partnership.  Through a program we call PROGRESS we support people-to-people connections within ASEAN and between ASEAN and the United States.  These connections are important as platforms to share experiences and establish networks.

I can’t think of a better idea than a growing network of scientists across the region and linked to the United States, for sharing knowledge and experiences.  Using AAAS’ fellowship program in the United States as a model, The foundation for this network began with the successful pilot program last year.

For that success, we thank the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology first and foremost for the collaboration.  We also thank, of course, the ASEAN Secretariat, particularly Dr. Alex Lim and his team in the Science & Technology Division, for working with us to plan the details of the program. Today marks an important expansion of this network with 14 new Fellows, which is a 100% increase!

We have been excited about this moment to bring together the Fellows from the first year with those who are just starting out this week.  We hope this week’s agenda will provide an opportunity for the new Fellows and new alumni to meet, connect, and build relationships.

I am certain that your work will help to illuminate how science and technology can be used to create better, evidence-based policies.  And most importantly, you and the Ministries in which you work will contribute to how those policies will improve the lives of ASEAN citizens.

You will also be ambassadors for ASEAN as well and join a broader community of ASEAN leaders who inspire all ASEAN citizens to think critically about important issues common across the region.  One scientist can make a huge difference.  You can make a big difference.

We are hopeful that all of these efforts will contribute to building stronger institutions and systems necessary to implement ASEAN’s ideal of “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” –an ideal which the United States strongly supports.

So I want to share my heartfelt appreciation to the all of the enthusiastic and talented Fellows gathered here today.  I congratulate the 2014 Fellows who were real pioneers to get this program started successfully.  You have already worked hard to make science support policy-making in your area of expertise.  I understand your significant contributions include: drafting policy recommendations to develop a regional protocol for sharing and managing genetic resources; developing policy recommendations on domestic water resource management, in particular for drinking water in Indonesia; as well as, helping to strengthen the ASEAN Network for Drugs, Diagnostics, Vaccines and Traditional Medicines Innovation, including by launching an ASEAN-wide newsletter.

I thank the Supervisors for guiding the Fellows in their work during the past year. We thank you for integrating these scientists into your offices, and guiding them as they moved from the lab to the policy context.  Your support has been critical in helping the Fellows work effectively, and to achieving and learning all that they have this past year.

I want to enthusiastically and warmly welcome the 2015 class of S&T Fellows, who are 14 early career scientists from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Based on the Krabi Initiative priorities, adopted by the ASEAN S&T Ministers, and as key areas of U.S. interest, the thematic focus areas for the 2015-2016 program year are: biodiversity, energy security, and fisheries and coastal management.  These areas of your work are critical issues to promote protection of the environment and natural resources in the region and ensure that the economic benefits that come from them are sustainable.

We wish the 2015 Fellows well as you begin your fellowship year.  I am counting on you to continue the success story of the ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellows Program and know that you will.

With that, and with thanks to all in this room who have made this important work possible, I would like to officially close the 2014 ASEAN – U.S. S&T Fellows Pilot program and launch the 2015 ASEAN-U.S. S&T Fellows program.