‘Teach a man to fish’: capability building in developing countries

A new book co-edited by Prof. Luc Soete is dedicated to Jorge Katz, a renowned scholar on the economics of innovation and technological change, particularly in Latin America. Katz is also a close friend of UNU-MERIT, and until recently served on our board of governors.

Entitled  Learning, Capability Building and Innovation for Development, the book is based on Katz’s main areas of work: processes of learning; technological capability building; the connection between innovation, productivity and competitiveness; macro-micro interactions; catching up processes including technological regimes; natural resources and the role of ‘under-the-radar’ innovation.

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Why ‘degrowth’ redefines riches

August 20th marked a watershed for all humanity: by that date we had used all the natural resources that our earth could replenish in 2013. Since August 21st we’ve been ‘borrowing’ from 2014 — essentially taking from our children and future generations. Not only will we not pay, but next year we’ll carry on consuming ever more of our natural resources faster than the earth can replenish, making this sad ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ fall ever earlier in the year.

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The car killed Detroit

4129808416_eb14033725_zGiants also fall. The latest urban disaster took place in Detroit: the former ‘Car Capital of the World’. After the city’s bankruptcy application in July 2013, politicians in Latin America suddenly grew nervous. Our city planners are often inspired by trips to the USA where, speaking what they call fluent English (in Miami, for example), they pick up the ‘latest thinking’ and then turn our cities into replicas of Detroit.

The ‘Paris of the West’ was once an icon of the US urban model. In other words, anything but sustainable. For example, the city killed its public transport system (selling all its trams to Mexico City in the 1950s), while pushing the idea that bloated boat-like cars equal power and freedom. While in Amsterdam, ‘crazy’ youngsters were blocking streets, demanding better cycling infrastructure, in Detroit, they demanded highway extensions. Continue reading

Press Review June 2013: First Impressions

Our internal press review features the latest publications by UNU-MERIT and its School of Governance: from working papers to policy reports to entire books.

Our June output includes a handbook, a PhD thesis and nine working papers, covering half the globe from Canada through Latin America to Western Europe to Iran. We focus on topics including the impact of infrastructure on trade; child deprivation and poverty; location advantages for new multinationals; and microeconometrics for innovative activity.

Innovation for economic performance: The case of Latin American firms’ analysed a raft of indicators to capture the innovation behaviour of manufacturing firms in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. Using the Enterprise Surveys 2010, this working paper explored differences in innovation performance and effort by country, sector and firm characteristics, such as being a multinational or exporter. The authors identified top R&D performers in LAC and what features they share. By researcher Pluvia Zuniga, PhD fellow Ezequiel Tacsir, et al.

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Latin America’s Silent (Two-Wheel) Revolution

More and more Latin Americans are finally on the verge of buying cars, thanks to a historic combination of rising salaries, higher availability of credit, and decreasing prices of motor vehicles. For many it’s a ‘life dream’ come true. But what do we lose in the process? What are the side-effects for public health and city spending?

The clearest impact is on public health: the more people cycle, the healthier they are; and having societies that avoid global trends in diabetes and obesity translates into major savings for governments. For example, the WHO estimates that in any given year, regular cyclists (i.e. cycling 3 hours/week, 36 weeks/year, or 108 hours/year) are on average 28 per cent “less likely to die from any cause than non-cyclists”.

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Press Review May 2013: First Impressions

Welcome to our monthly internal press review, featuring the latest publications by UNU-MERIT and its School of Governance: from working papers to policy reports to entire books.

Our May output includes four working papers, four journal articles, two policy briefs, one book, a report chapter, and a comparison paper. These cover much of the globe: from Brazil and Ecuador, through South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania, to Afghanistan and Bangladesh — on topics such as managing technological change, responding to economic crises, building resilience to natural disasters, and upgrading social protection schemes.

Women in a training centre for traditional handicrafts, a project that is assisted by the United Nations Development Programme. Continue reading

Urban Mobility: What Can Latin America Learn from East Asia?

The cities of Latin America have much in common with the sprawling urban centres of the Far East, despite being two very different worlds. In terms of mobility, there is a lot to be learned: do we follow the example of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, where more than 90 per cent of daily trips are made by motorbike? Or do we bow to central Tokyo, where 91.8 per cent of daily commuting trips are made by bus or rail?

From Asia, we can foresee the future for Latin American cities. There are at least two development alternatives: (i) bet on an economic model that aims to ‘grow’ first, and ‘clean’ later, usually tied to high rates of motorization, or, (ii) ensure a sustainable trend from the outset with urban development that balances economic growth, social equity and natural resource protection.

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Walk the Line: How to Reclaim our Public Spaces?

At some point every day, we use the most ‘human’ form of urban transport: our feet. Walking has always been the basis of human mobility and even now, in our mistaken belief that ‘development’ has to mean cities filled with highways and polluting vehicles, pedestrians are still fighting for recognition.

For many, this battle has intensified since the 1960s, thanks to Jane Jacobs’ book The Life and Death of Great American Cities. This challenged the US model of towns built for cars while criticizing previously ‘untouchable’ architects such as Le Corbusier and Robert Moses. Indeed, Jacobs’ public protest against Moses’ plans to build a highway over Washington Square Park in New York City is now legendary. Frustrated by the protests, Moses declared: “There is nobody against this. Nobody, nobody, nobody but a bunch of, a bunch of mothers.” In the end, the mothers won!

Washington Square Park, NYC Continue reading

First Impressions: Press Review March 2013

Welcome to our monthly internal press review, featuring the latest publications by UNU-MERIT and its School of Governance: from working papers to policy reports to entire books.

Our March output includes 10 working papers, four journal articles, two PhD theses, and two research reports for the European Commission and United Nations Development Programme. For innovation, topics range from the aerospace industry, to nanotechnology, to R&D patents and productivity. For governance, we look into urban sustainability, economic vulnerability, and communities of learning. Geographically, the focus spreads from Latin America, through Europe and the Arab world, via Singapore to China, drawing on real-world data from more than 160 countries.

Students from the Khan Younis Training Centre in Gaza, run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), test drive a Formula 1-style car they have built, mostly out of recycled parts. Continue reading

We Are What We Eat: How To Break Our Bovine Habits?

When travelling it’s good to pay attention to local lifestyles, because what people eat and buy reflect a very intimate aspect of our societies. More and more, however, I’ve seen the same chicken soup, the same toothpaste, and the same soda in (more or less) the same plastic packaging in supermarkets wherever I go, be it Albania, Dubai or Ethiopia. Meanwhile I’ve seen kids scoffing the same Big Macs as far afield as Russia and Turkey.

What's Russian for Big Mac?

It’s no secret that a dozen corporations have managed to become worldwide consumer ‘standards’, so that millions of people now eat pretty much the same ‘thing’ in any big city. On the one hand we’re locked into synthetic seeds from Monsanto, and on the other the ‘always low prices’ from Wal-Mart.

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