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Meeting developing-world challenges requires large-scale vision, vice provost tells conference

Creating community partnerships and developing new techniques to share information are key ways that Cornell and other U.S. universities can help developing countries -- but on a larger scale than in the past.

Giving the keynote address at a global partnerships, knowledge and technology conference at Mann Library, May 21, Alice Pell, vice provost for international relations, noted that the era of small projects that involve just a few hundred people is over.

"We need to figure out how to reach 10,000 people effectively if we want to reduce poverty, environmental degradation and malnutrition," she said, and how to think broadly, use a variety of technologies and maintain long-lasting partnerships with host country academics and community members.

Pell pointed to several examples that are meeting these challenges. For the past 16 years a group of partners including universities, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and community groups has led a community-based effort to provide adequate clean water to the Visayas region of the Philippines. When funding was scarce, small projects and regular electronic communication kept networks alive and ready to respond to the needs of those living in the watersheds. Several students from both Cornell and Leyte State University have researched ways to plan how to protect local water supplies without jeopardizing people's livelihoods.

In Afghanistan, with the rise of the Taliban, Kabul University library saw its book collection shrink from 185,000 volumes in 1985 to 23,000 in 2002, of which only about 6,000 are still useful, and there are no current journals, Pell said. But Kabul University is now equipped with The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library (TEEAL), an external hard drive from Cornell with a database developed by Cornell librarians and computing experts and containing full-text articles from 140 academic journals.

Similarly, students at Ethiopia's Bahir Dar University enrolled in Cornell's Master of Professional Studies degree program in international agriculture and rural development, which will graduate its first class July 4, have had access to TEEAL and an online resource, Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture, that links to 1,278 food, agriculture, environmental science and related social sciences journals.

Future challenges cited by Pell include dealing with irregular electric service in many developing countries, including Ethiopia, coping with language barriers, explaining technology and concepts to farmers and others without formal education, and making expensive, up-to-date science textbooks available to students.

Media Contact

Blaine Friedlander