Are you ever confused about what some of those organizations at the Research Triangle Park actually do? On Dec. 5, our speaker, Dr. Paul Weisenfeld, clarified what Research Triangle Institute does. This is not a business, nor is it a government agency. Instead it is an independent non-profit founded in 1958 to provide research development and technical services to their government and commercial clients worldwide.
Past President Don Stanger began the program by introducing Dr. Wayne Holden, the President and CEO of RTI who had also addressed us back in January of this year. Dr. Holden introduced his colleague Dr. Weisenfeld, who manages International Development, one of the four major divisions in RTI.
Thus, right here in Durham, we have an organization that has a very ambitious mission — to improve the human condition by turning knowledge into practice for the whole world and especially for marginalized people! And with 4,150 staff members around the world, they are doing an amazing job of doing just that. With offices worldwide and in the US, their headquarters is still right here in RTP.
Dr. Weisenfeld then spelled out the four areas of their work. They take a multi-disciplinary approach with their staff having expertise in 250 disciplines, reflecting 90 languages and 105 nationalities.
First, he explained their programs for International Education. They have moved away from the traditional approach of testing, and instead are focusing on enabling schools to increase reading skills, especially in the first three grades. They have developed a program called “Early Grade Reading Assessment” which has now been adopted in four countries.
The second area he discussed was Governance and Economic Development. They are not involved in working on the political process, such as voting procedures, but rather work to help governments do a better job of delivering basic services such as water, sanitation, and roads. This also involves developing more workforce and economic opportunities, with better career opportunities, by using labor market analysis.
The third area is Global Health. The goal here is to strengthen health systems across the board. They also are seeking to combat neglected tropical diseases, especially since many of those can be cured, but are underfunded.
The last area is Food Security and Agriculture. Their goal is to make food accessible, nutritious, safe, and sustainable. With the growth of population worldwide, the prediction is that the world will need to produce 60% more food in the near future. They are working on programs to enable countries to better manage their food supply, especially to cope with “food loss” that takes place between farms and retail markets. In addition, better nutrition and better food choices will increase the health of the populations and avoid the major problem of the “dual burden” of undernourishment and obesity. This refers to the pattern of having people moving up the economic ladder, but having higher rates of obesity.
Dr. Weisenfeld’s final point was about the “data revolution” we are all experiencing with so much data now available. Data driven development has the potential to improve the human condition by providing better information for decision making by their government and commercial clients. Thus RTI is again thinking big for the whole wide world by working to make “Big Data” more useful for countries to meet their needs.
Of all the groups In the world with the ambitious mission to “improve the human condition by turning knowledge into practice”, RTI appears to be a major leader in doing this.
Submitted by Brady Surles