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Calestous Juma: A STEaPP Tribute

18 December 2017

Professor Calestous Juma, Image by Martha Stewart

Our work in the Department of Science, Technology Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) at UCL has drawn on and been inspired immensely by thoughts and works of many yesteryear and current innovation, technology, public policy and development scholars, among whom Prof Calestous Juma stands tall. It was indeed with a deep sense of loss, shock and disbelief that we got to know of the passing on of Prof Juma on Friday, December 15th.

Many colleagues in our department have worked closely and remotely with Calestous on science, technology, innovation and development issues in the last few to several years, and we all singularly and collectively have memories of an accessible, inspiring, pragmatic and game-changing thinker. From working with him on Freedom to Innovate: Biotechnology in Africa’s Development; taking his classes at Harvard Kennedy School; to interactions with him in many forums globally on issues relating the roles that innovation could play in shaping global development – one always got the sense that from Calestous there was so much more to come. And indeed there was. Calestous’ insightful reflections would take you backwards and forwards and leave you with a much richer understanding of the present.

A couple of months ago, when we were looking for a book that would help our doctoral students to critically interrogate and situate current and future innovation and development trajectories, his 2016 book, Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies – felt like it had been written specifically for us! But then again, that was the flair and impact of Calestous’ incisive thinking and writing ability which enabled his work to reach and be relevant to different audiences globally.

So much has been and will be said about Calestous and his contribution to the thinking, practice and roles of technologies and innovations in human development, but among these contributions what stands out for us is the impact that a single individual can make through passion, relevance and persistence. So much to learn, even for institutions, old or new. Adios Calestous.