- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Celebrating Calestous Juma

| Spring 2018

Calestous Juma died on December 15 following a long battle with cancer. He was Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School and Director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Globalization Project. He also directed the Center’s Agricultural Innovation Policy in Africa and Health Innovation Policy in Africa projects, and he taught highly popular executive education courses on innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship.

When Calestous Juma passed away in December, heartfelt tributes poured in from heads of state and global NGOs, from government officials and scientific organizations, from fellow professors, students, and colleagues, and from readers of his Twitter posts who had never met him. (See page 9.)

Juma was a global renaissance man of science and technology: an elected member of the Royal Society of London, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the World Academy of Sciences, the UK Royal Academy of Engineering, and the African Academy of Sciences.

Growing up on the shores of Kenya’s Lake Victoria in a remote village that often flooded, Juma learned early about challenges, resilience, and innovation.

“The family kept getting pushed out of their home and then trying to go back,” his widow, Alison Field-Juma, told The New York Times. “So there was this sort of constant change in his environment....They were forced to innovate. Both his parents were real innovators. I think that’s where that spirit comes from.”

Throughout his life, Juma worked to innovate, fix, and improve life in Africa and around the world.

As a young teacher in Mombasa, Juma sent so many letters to the Daily Nation that they hired him as their first science correspondent. Later, he earned a masters and then a doctorate from Sussex University, moved back to Kenya and founded the African Centre for Technology Studies— bringing researchers and policymakers together. Known for his groundbreak­ing research on biologicl diversity, Juma became Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and helped pave the way for a UN treaty signed by more than 150 governments in 1992 to pro­tect the survival of diverse species and ecosystems.

With John Holdren, former science advisor to President Obama, at a Belfer Center seminar to discuss Juma’s newest book, Innovation and its Enemies (October 2017).
With John Holdren, former science advisor to President Obama, at a Belfer Center seminar to discuss Juma’s newest book, Innovation and its Enemies (October 2017).

Juma worked tirelessly to better leverage scientific and technological knowledge for communities around the world, from STEM education and agricultural innovation to 3D print­ing and mobile cook stoves. With his help, Kenya became one of the first countries to use smartphones for money transfer, and herders in Somalia exchanged and tracked their goats by painting them with their mobile numbers. He was also a principal drafter of the Kenyan intel­lectual property law. In his book The New Harvest, he wrote that Africa—a reservoir of biodiversity well-adapted to arid conditions—could help feed the world despite climate change.

Always in tune with current challenges and opportunities, Juma’s 2016 book Innovation and Its Enemies reminds us that fights over technology are hardly new, chronicling a recur­ring pattern of public skepticism and social adjustment. Using new tech­nology himself, he amassed more than 100,000 Twitter followers. His former project coordinator, Katherine Gordon, said Juma loved using both Twitter and humor to connect with and share his research with the world.

William Clark, John Holdren, Venky Narayanamurti, and Dan Schrag, Juma’s science and technol­ogy colleagues at the Kennedy School, wrote that he brought to their work together “a first-class mind, a deeply informed focus on some of the most important issues at the intersection of science and technology with develop­ment and sustainability, an admirable commitment to teaching and advis­ing, a mind-boggling work ethic, and his exceptional standing as a global public intellectual.”

“He was also just a wonderful col­league,” they said, “warm, ever upbeat and enthusiastic, always ready to con­sider seriously the views of others, always looking for ways to contribute to the Center, the School, and the world.”

 

Tributes from World Leaders, Academics, and Colleagues

 

With Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace to judge the first Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering competition (2013).
With Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace to judge the first Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering competition (2013).

 

“Once in a while, humankind gets blessed with prodigious talents to light the world and dispel darkness. Civilizations and breakthroughs in human history have arisen from such gifted people. Such was Professor Calestous Juma.”

Sindiso Ngwenya, Secretary General, COMESA

 

 

“His clear-eyed devotion to innovation is now more important than it was when he began his career–and this is something we can all learn from him.”

Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya

 

 

“Saddened about the loss of a great man and scholar, Calestous Juma.”

Al Gore, former U.S. Vice President

 

 

“We have lost a brilliant mind who was dedicated to innovation, education and Africa’s prosperity.”

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda

 

 

“Always a voice to be listened to on science, technology, & sustainable development.”
 

Helen Clark, former Prime Minister, New Zealand

 

 

“I never knew what to expect when I answered the phone: sometimes he would be calling to tell me a funny story; other times to tell me to come meet the former Prime Minister of Kenya. He was much more than a boss —he was like family to me.”

 Katherine Gordon, former Project Coordinator

 

 

 

Receiving an honory degree from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, prior to addressing the graduating class (2012).
Receiving an honory degree from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, prior to addressing the graduating class (2012).
 

“[Prof. Juma] was an inspiration to young graduate students... We loved his humor, curiosity & optimism.” 

Subhash Ghimire, former Harvard Kennedy
School student

 

 

 

“Thank you for all you did to make the world a better place; thank you for caring and doing so much for the less fortunate. I was deeply honored to know you.”

Mark Tercek, CEO, The Nature Conservancy

 

 

“A passionate advocate of innovation, Prof. Juma believed that biotechnology particularly had the potential to spur a green revolution in Africa similar to the one that helped contain acute famines in Asia in the 1960s.”  

C.S. Prakash, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences; Professor of Plant and Soil Science, Tuskegee University 

 

 

 

 

“A world class mind, a fountain of knowledge, an inspiration, a rare gentleman. Africa has lost one of its best intellectual minds on the global stage. RIP.”

Akinwumi A. Adesina, President, African Development Bank

 

 

“From the time I met him in 2010, he gave so much to me and to Nigerians. He was a true African Patriot….He advised me when we confronted the Ebola virus. The establishment of the Lagos Innovation Advisory Council was informed by his Idea. His thoughts on agriculture and farming were most helpful in shaping our state agro policy.” 

 Babatunde Raji Fashola, Nigerian Minister of Works, Power and Housing

 

 

 

“A brilliant analyst and advocate of innovation to improve human life all over the world.”

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University

 

 

 

Calestous Juma

For more tributes and information, see belfercenter.org/Calestous

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

"Celebrating Calestous Juma." Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Spring 2018).

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