[CNBC] Funding the future

* The original article is available on CNBC here.

Science and technology are playing a larger and larger role in our everyday lives, as some of the world’s most pressing challenges have been thrown into stark relief. While the world has witnessed many breakthroughs recently, without robust support for researchers in STEM, they may never have seen the light of day.

Contributions to STEM such as the VinFuture Prize have the power to catalyse change, funding research that addresses our biggest problems and seeks to create a better future for all.
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VinFuture Prize Inagural Prize Council Meeting in Hanoi (Jan 2021)

Over the past year, some of the world’s toughest challenges have been thrown into stark relief. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed with shocking speed how global disease can derail economic progress, threaten public health and put millions of lives at risk.

At the end of 2020, largely because of surging poverty rates, the world’s acutely food insecure were projected to swell in number from 149 million to 272 million. Even before the pandemic, chronic and acute hunger were on the rise - some of the by-products of intensifying threats like climate change and infectious disease. Breakthroughs in science and technology will be vital to finding solutions for problems like these.

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On January 20, 2021, the Inaugural Prize Council Meeting took place. It was agreed that nominations will be sought from all nations.

With prizes such as the VinFuture Prize expanding access to funding for scientists and catalysing change worldwide, the STEM industries have the power to create a better future for everyone.

Hurdles in STEM Identified

Inequality and inequity in STEM have kept potentially world-changing ideas off the table. Consider that Africa, which makes up over 12 per cent of the world’s population and is a hotspot for global challenges such as food security and diseases, still accounts for just 1 per cent of its research output.

For the STEM industries to unlock their potential to build a better world, innovators need support that can help them translate breakthroughs into products, tools and resources for sustainable development. 
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But it has not always been easy for scientists to achieve such tremendous breakthroughs.

A lack of reliable funding and weak infrastructure have hindered growth, jeopardising innovation and progress toward long-term welfare targets. And this can have disastrous effects.
For instance, a vaccine for coronaviruses was almost developed five years ago, but funding disappeared, and the research was put on hold.

“The STEM industries are proven catalysts for social change,” said Dr. Le Mai Lan, Vingroup’s Vice Chairwoman and VinFuture Foundation’s designated representative.

“Robust support for STEM is the key to ensuring innovators can continue breaking new ground in science and technology, solving the world’s greatest challenges and creating a more sustainable future.”
Science for Humanity

Groups like the Vietnam-based VinFuture Foundation have stepped up to address these challenges.

Founded by Pham Nhat Vuong - first Vietnamese billionaire and his wife Pham Thu Huong, the non-profit foundation has taken an active role in development through advocacy, grant-making for innovators in the STEM fields and partnerships with respected scientists at prestigious global institutes.

Pham Nhat Vuong is also the founder and chairman of Vingroup, which is doing business in wide range of sectors from real estate, healthcare, smartphones and planning to launch its smart electric vehicles in the US, Canada and Europe.

Founders of VinFuture Foundation have promised annual prizes worth a total of US$4.5 million, offering funding for researchers and inventors who promote breakthrough scientific research and technological innovations that can create meaningful change at scale.

“Over the years, researchers and inventors have made great contributions to science and human life,” said Dr. Le Mai Lan. “More prizes honouring wisdom and giving opportunities to people labouring in underserved parts of the world will boost our efforts to create a more sustainable future for everyone.”

The impact that such funding can have is clear.

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Being the first of its kind in Asia-Pacific, the VinFuture Prize also addresses deep-rooted funding issues, giving women researchers, scientists working in emerging fields and the developing world much-needed access to capital.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, has provided US$5 billion in funding for health and anti-poverty initiatives in Africa. That funding is helping African scientists fight significant public health challenges, from malaria to COVID-19 , and advance their fields of research in the process.

The TWAS Awards, administered by The World Academy of Sciences, have likewise provided prizes of US$10,000 plus networking opportunities and recognition to scientists living in developing nations.

Homegrown initiatives in developing nations are making a difference, too. The Africa-based Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) scheme has provided US$100 million to develop scientific leaders in 54 nations on the continent. By the end of 2021, its umbrella network will have supported the training of more than 1,000 PhD and postdoctoral researchers.

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Boosting research in the developing world can have a major impact on sustainability. That is why these efforts focus on addressing the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, like poverty, hunger and climate change.

Honouring science for humanity, the VinFuture Prize is aligning with the SDGs across the board. Nominations must show clear evidence that their research will impact millions of people in the past or next ten years.

Building a Better Future

Now more than ever, the world needs unity — collective action that addresses threats to the world’s future and creates a level playing field for innovators to meet the UN’s SDGs by 2030.

Contributions to STEM, like the VinFuture Prize, help vaccine-makers continue their research, climate scientists combat the effects of a changing environment, and the future generation of leaders and thinkers solve real-world problems for the more than 7 billion people on Earth.

They help create a better future for everyone.