A farewell blog from UKCDS Director Andrée Carter

A farewell blog from UKCDS Director Andrée Carter
29 October, 2014

Andrée Carter

After over seven years of dedicated service, the founding UKCDS Director is stepping down. Andrée Carter reflects on her experiences at UKCDS.

After over seven years of dedicated service, the founding UKCDS Director is off to pastures new – 11.5 acres in the middle of North Devon to be precise – to restore the work life balance and think about what’s next. Andrée Carter reflects on her experiences at UKCDS.

Ah the luxury of a farewell blog; a ‘warts and all’, ‘say what you think’, “nobody can sack me, I’ve resigned!” sort of blog. So what do I say about working with UKCDS member organisations, the Secretariat and the international development community for the past seven and a half years…

I’ve enjoyed a unique role in the world of science funding and policy. I’ve worked with a steering board of 14 Chief Scientific Advisers and Chief Executives: people who have risen to the top of their career ladders and each with their own highly developed academic and strategic skills. Was it easy work? No! All have been very individual, held different ideas and been driven to achieve their own organisation’s strategic objectives.

Finding the niche or hook that would tempt collaboration and co-funding of research between these different organisations was part of the Secretariat’s role. We’ve worked hard at it, and I’m pleased to say that 18% of our member organisations’ development research is now co-funded and five of the Research Councils now have partnerships with DFID.

Since being at UKCDS my contacts database has grown to over 2,000 people. There is no doubt that this is a people job – understanding the motivation and ambition of others is critical for collaboration. I’ve met and worked with literally thousands of people from the UKCDS membership, academia, industry, NGOs and other government departments – from the UK and around the world. I was once asked what key skills and qualities are required for this job, “a thick skin and a terrier mentality” is how I replied. But in my case it was also important to have fun; hence Whitehall staff coerced to wear Christmas jumpers and Secretariat team meetings in the park.

UKCDS was actually the idea of Sir Mark Walport, the current Government Chief Scientific Adviser. He was part of a high level working group tasked with responding to a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that in 2004 recommended, “an increase in the availability of funding for development sciences R&D in the UK, in order to strengthen the evidence base available for international development policy–making, and to safeguard the UK’s ability to maintain a leadership role in this field.”

UK interest in and funding for science and development has grown exponentially since 2004; no doubt related to the UK Government ring fencing the DFID budget and seeking to attain the 0.7% GDP overseas development assistance goal. I believe that UKCDS has also made an enormous difference. The science for development community is now well established and connected in many areas, whilst the Secretariat continues to provide the environment and support for connecting people in others. For me, BIS’s announcement of its leadership of the ODA-compliant Newton Fund was a massive moment for the UK: significant research funding for development from a different Whitehall department than DFID, demonstrating real recognition that there is value in UK science for development.

There is still far more to do, however. The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa underlines the need for implementation and scale up of much of the research that has been shown to improve the health and livelihoods of people in developing countries. Health and education systems, low carbon and clean energy technologies, food and nutrition security, and cultural and behavioural understanding are all areas of UK research which are widely recognised as internationally excellent. Cross-sector collaboration is also growing; academics are increasingly working with Innovate UK, the UKTI’s Aid Funded Business Service, the private sector and NGOs to tackle global challenges.

I will be continuing my role on the Council and Committees of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and will consider new opportunities as they arise and no doubt many of our paths will cross again. I’d like to use this blog to thank everyone for making my job enjoyable and rewarding and particularly the UKCDS Secretariat who put up with my crazy ideas, untidy desk and enthusiastic approach to work but more importantly made things happen!

Andrée’s potted points

Craziest moment: Riding a goods delivery bike across a field in Bangladesh followed by a group of cheering villagers amazed at a western lady joining in (see above).

Best achievement: Seeing the Department of Business Innovation and Skills recognise that international development can provide opportunities for UK science to be internationally excellent and demonstrate impact. In the early days of UKCDS gaining traction in BIS was an uphill struggle.

Worst moment: Falling into Rutland Water fully clothed in February, during a team building activity. And the team not noticing I was missing!

Most rewarding: Facilitating dialogue between those who have never talked to each other – between some UKCDS member organisations at the beginning, and then at the end in the disaster risk reduction field with international institutions and individuals.

Frustrating times (not moments!): The increasing levels of bureaucracy and accountability that doesn’t appear to relate to outputs, just process.

Proudest moments: Seeing the career achievements of people I’ve helped or worked with.

Looking into my crystal ball: It’s been said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste… it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” It’s a time when politicians and international organisations are at their most receptive to new ideas. I do hope that the Ebola crisis triggers a new way of engaging with and supporting developing and fragile countries, and that the process is driven by equity and concern and not by the fear of economic damage or global health risks.

What I’m least going to miss: My two hours ‘each-way’ commute.

What I will miss the most: The friendship, camaraderie and combined purpose of the UKCDS team and the people I’ve worked with.

Image credit: Steve Johnson via Unsplash

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