Financial Times recently reported the Gates Foundation is diverging from its primary missions, to irradiate AIDS and Malaria world-wide, and focusing $5 million “for a project granting fellowships to Iraqi scholars seeking to continue their work at institutions in other countries.” The U.S. Congress has approved an additional $5 million to further fund this project.
I am a champion of preserving intellectual capital, especially in countries like Iraq where the infrastructure is so broken investment in academia is a low priority. It is vital that we protect the present and future knowledge of this ancient civilization. However, this effort is, like so many before, short sighted.
Investing in intellectual capital is a multi faceted process. You must protect the intellectual elite from persecution and allow them to do their research; but, that is a short term solution to a long term problem. You must also provide for the future academics by through proper educational facilities at refugee camps and psychological care to address student’s substantial emotional needs during a war. So many children, forced to leave their homes, interrupt their education, and basically live in transience desperately need the stability of school and the support of adult mentors. Additionally, there must be a way to ensure intellectual capital sent abroad can return home. An Iraqi scientist working out of Sweden does very little to help rebuild their country of origin. Nothing I read about the Gates effort addresses these needs.
The Gates Foundation has founded itself on attacking a problem from all sides to make the most positive impact possible. Indeed, in the case AIDS and Malaria it has done just that. I hope, in the oversight process for this program, they will maintain the same strategy and look at investing in the future of Iraqi intellectual capital by investing in the children they are leaving behind.