A Valid Comparison of Science and Philanthropy?

By Sarah Keyston

As fellow UG Team Member Ranjani noted previously, nonprofits and governments can have an even greater impact when they work together to achieve growth and development. I am an International Development Studies major at UCLA, and I investigated these collaborative possibilities in a recent class.

The seminar, entitled “Entrepreneurship and Social Change in the Global Context,” turned out to focus on the biotech and nanotech industries, rather than on international philanthropy (as I had hoped would be the case!). Even so, in my final paper, I was able to combine my interest in international nonprofits with our class discussion of these scientific industries. It is particularly interesting how the idea of an “interdisciplinary research program” can be translated to the nonprofit realm!

Below I’ve included the conclusion from my paper examining this idea… I decided against including the entire 14 pages of my research J, but this excerpt showcases the main argument. Hopefully it is not too research paper-y… perhaps even somewhat enjoyable!

…We can see from these associations that the idea of the interdisciplinary program, as conventionally seen in university research, translates to NGOs and the development arena. Rather than collaboration between firms, academic departments, and the public and private sectors, we see collaboration between NGOs, governments, private foundations, and the media in order to contribute to development and global change. These interdisciplinary networks leverage resources in order to provide more impact combined than each member organization would have on its own, much like the ability of interdisciplinary research programs to generate and commercialize research that otherwise might not have been produced.

The interdisciplinary networks centered on the work of NGOs are a new organizational form that is arguably based on the model of the interdisciplinary research program. These networks geared towards development demonstrate similarly strong practices in leadership and organization, which are essential for any collaborative effort—research or otherwise—to be successful. The NGO network identifies a problem, proposes and implements solutions, and evaluates results, just as any research program approaches R&D.

Though any interdisciplinary program or network faces challenges when it comes to merging ideas, management practices, and resources, the right leadership and institutions can overcome these and generate economic growth. The Clinton Global Initiative is a prime example of successful navigation of the interdisciplinary network issue. CGI combines the resources, economic and political influence, and ability to enact change of its members in order to provide both viable solutions to global problems and economic development—just as an interdisciplinary research program combines the knowledge, influence, and ability to act of its members in order to provide commercial products and solutions to consumers.

Thus the idea of the interdisciplinary program translates successfully into the development arena, at least on a macro-scale. On a micro-scale, there are considerable differences in practices, knowledge transfer, and content because research within the nanotech or biotech industry is in theory very different than tackling global issues, although often these industries can provide solutions to global health problems, thereby becoming a part of the interdisciplinary network themselves.

Any thoughts? I would be interested to hear if those involved in scientific industry welcome this comparison!

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