GLOBAL: Brito to head Unesco science

Lidia Brito, Mozambique's former Science Minister, will be the next head of the science policy division at Unesco, SciDev.Net has revealed. Brito is expected to take up the post in Paris in December. She replaces Mustafa El Tayeb who has led the organisation's science policy work since 1996.

Several senior appointments are being decided at the Unesco General Conference which runs to 23 October. Last week a new Director-General of the Paris-based UN agency was elected by representatives of its 193 member states. Former Bulgarian Minister Irina Bokova replaces Kochiro Matsuura of Japan, and is the first woman to hold the top post since Unesco's foundation in 1945.

Brito has gained solid experience as a science policy-maker in a developing country after serving as Mozambique's first Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology between 2000 and 2005.

As Minister Brito, who has a PhD in forest sciences, was responsible for drawing up a national strategy for higher education and reforming Mozambique's legal framework for science.

After stepping down, she taught forest sciences at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique. She has also served on the UN University Council and the African Forest Forum's governing council, and is a trustee of SciDev.Net and a board member of the Centre for Higher Education Transformation in Cape Town, among other involvements.

But Brito does not face an easy task, development experts agree. The key challenges are twofold, according to Peter Tindemans, a science policy expert who has worked closely with Unesco and contributed to its 2005 science report.

The first is to address the agency's habit of spreading its resources too thinly, he says. The second, linked to the first, is to reconsider its practice of helping developing countries draw up policy documents while failing to assist with policy implementation.

A third challenge will be to boost the 'innovation' component of Unesco''s policy programmes, says John Daly, a former science official with the US Agency for International Development who has also advised the World Bank. "The difference is a shift in focus from research to development and innovation in the productive sectors," Daly says.

It is expected that Brito will be eased into her new job with a small boost in budget. A draft budget circulated last month includes a US$2.5 million increase for the natural sciences division, taking its total to $22 million. The document identifies science policy as a priority area for the organisation.

* This article was published by SciDev.Net on 9 October, titled Mozambique's ex-science minister heads to UNESCO. It is republished under a Creative Commons Licence.