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SFC’s Jenny Jamieson makes the case for a larger and more diverse community of innovators

Banner image for Post pandemic, we can’t afford to ration innovation

Young boy with rations

Much of society’s innovation during the COVID-19 pandemic has been focused on immediate ways of mitigating the effects of the virus and the rapid development of vaccines.

The speed at which vaccines have been made available has been impressive to say the least. It showcases the best of scientific discovery and innovation, and demonstrates why the research infrastructure funded by the Scottish Funding Council and other UK funding bodies is so important.

However, the ways in which we have adapted to the pandemic have not been exclusively about innovation. Sometimes, they have simply been about maintaining momentum and keeping people together. What highlighted this for me was the UK and Ireland Green Gown Awards ceremony at which I presented the award for Campus Health, Food and Drink on behalf of the Scottish Funding Council (congratulations to the University of St Andrews, by the way!).

The event was held virtually but – after having lived in a digital world since March 2020 – there was nothing especially new about that. What was new was the way that the technology was used to create an event designed to keep a community together.

And this was incredibly important because the Green Gown community has existed for many years and has successfully supported and championed innovation for climate change in colleges and universities. Ensuring the continuation of the awards in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic was a way of keeping people engaged and of helping to ensure that they emerged together on the other side.

New and exciting innovation communities have been formed in the fight against COVID-19, and many of them will deliver ground breaking impacts for many years to come. However, we still need to value and preserve the communities that existed before the pandemic, and to ensure that we do not lose something valuable as things shift around to form the ‘new normal’.

Medical innovation around combatting viruses will continue to be important for a very long time to come. However, we should resist the idea that one area of innovation offsets another.

When Sir David Attenborough was recently named the People’s Advocate for the Cop26 summit he stressed that climate change would soon present an even greater threat to the world than the COVID-19 pandemic. And there are many other areas such as equalities, access to food and water and population growth that continue to need creative thinking and world class science.

Bigger and continuing challenges need a larger and more diverse community of innovators to ensure nothing is missed and every opportunity is seized. We need to think and act holistically to ensure success.