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 S4CP’s RDLead: Attaining SDGs through research inclusivity

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The Research and Development Leadership (RDLead), one of the four component programs of the Science for Change Program (S4CP) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) contributes to the efforts towards attainment of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It does this by addressing the human capacity gaps in the conduct of more impactful and relevant research and development pursuits of its beneficiaries – institutions and their personnel (educators, researchers, artists, scientists, and engineers). The RDLead engages experts, called RD Leaders, to capacitate their hosts institutions through the conduct of various activities like trainings, workshops, seminars, lectures, coaching and mentoring, consultations, and other related interventions towards enabling the institution’s personnel to pursue research and development initiatives towards the attainment of the SDGs.

Since it started in July 2018 until May 2022, the RDLead has provided 68 RD Leaders to 64 host institutions to undertake various capacity development interventions to help them get started in research or level up their capabilities to do more. The program has served all the 17 regions in the country and continues to deepen its reach as it continues to tap more latent research talents across the Philippine archipelago, especially in the far-flung areas.

Of the 64 institutions that it has reached, 19 (30%) of these are new to the DOST. New institutions are those that have not secured grants or support from the DOST for the conduct of research and development initiatives. While a lot of work still needs to be done to bring more institutions to the DOST research ecosystem, several strides have been achieved, particularly from these “new” institutions supported by the RDLead program, currently implemented by the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP), one of the DOST’s research councils tasked to support and promote basic research.

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One of the notable success stories that came out from the RDLead is that of the Northern Iloilo State University (NISU), formerly Northern Iloilo State Polytechnic College (NIPSC). From its former status as a state college, it has now been officially converted into a state university. This status elevation is not simply nomenclature. It entails a multiple-fold increase in stakeholder’s expectations on how it delivers on its tripartite functions – instruction, extension, and research. Further, it is a validation of how a program like the S4CP, particularly the RDLead helps its beneficiaries achieve greater heights and more impact.

The RDLead engagement at NISU started when it was still NIPSC at the height of the COVID19 pandemic in 2020. NIPSC, then, was barely making a dent in delivering on research, one of its core functions. With no externally funded research project, it tried to do away with its own internal research grant mechanism, which is not only meager in terms of amount, but one that must be shared by 7 campuses.  Making matters more challenging is that this internal research fund does not always end up being 100% utilized by its faculty and researchers. Reason? The shortage of research proposals good enough to merit approval and funding. Doing a root-cause analysis, this shortage can be traced down to limited knowledge on developing fundable proposals. “Limited yung knowledge to come up [with] and package proposals”, NISU faculty Mr. Robin P. Escriba validated.

This is where the RDLead came into the picture. Following a series of meetings and consultations to assess NISU’s capability development needs, the program engaged an RD Leader, Dr. Gerald Quinitio. Dr. Quinitio is a fisheries ecology expert tasked to mentor, capacitate, and introduce NISU personnel to various research opportunities that they can tap. During its engagement with its RD Leader, its faculty and personnel were trained to write research proposals, scientific papers, enhance NISU’s research roadmap, and forge partnerships and linkages among other things.

The engagement has been a productive one as it exceeded some of its targeted outputs, particularly the number of full-blown research proposals. This marked the great interest of its personnel to do research, given the right environment and opportunity. NISU formed a core team of 15 researchers representing 7 of its campuses (2 from each of 6 campuses and 3 from the main campus) for manageability and a more targeted approach. These 15 personnel were then expected to share the knowledge and skills they acquired to their colleagues in their respective campuses and colleges.  They managed to develop around 9 proposals from a target of 2 proposals from the engagement. At least 5 of these proposals were submitted to DOST and its attached offices and agencies for possible funding.3

As with any research journey, NISU was not spared from difficulties and rejections. The team dealt with rejections as they worked towards securing external grants. In dealing with these “low” moments, Dr. Quinitio not just prepared them skill-wise, but also mentally and emotionally to process the roller-coaster ride that research is.

In talking about the disapproval of some of the proposals, former research director Dr. Rosario Noderama pointed out, “Kahit hindi kami nagsucceed in our first try, the comments of the panel were very important.”. She also shared the following when she talked about NISU’s interactions and trainings with its RD Leader, “Nacondition na din sila that rejection is possible. Pero yung experience is what's more important. Hindi sila nanghihinayang, we'll try again next year. Nandun pa rin yung feeling proud na naexperience pa din yung pagsubmit for external funding.”

While rejections welcomed NISU’s faculty, they put their money where their mouth is. They persisted and took the lessons from all the experience they went through – both good and bad.

Fast forward to today, NISU’s efforts finally paid off. Its aspiration to get externally funded research came into fruition. It finally got the breakthrough it needed with the grit, passion, and skills of its faculty and personnel. Awakened, enabled, and nurtured by its RD Leader during and even after engagement. It finally secured approval and funding of 2 of its research proposals with a combined amount of PhP 4.4M, involving 2 of its 7 campuses as implementors, focusing on fisheries and aquatic resources.

Through the RDLead, “Lumakas yung loob namin magsubmit for external funding. Dati yung ginagawa namin medyo kulang kulang, yung hindi pa siya ready for funding.” Mr. Escriba enthused. He further added, “Nagkaroon na ng chance. Nabuhayan kami ng loob.”, upon learning of the approval of one of the proposals, of which he is the project leader.

As NISU continues to build on the gains from their engagement with an RD Leader, it pointed out how it realized that it, too, can contribute on a national level. Moreover, that they can also make “research na hindi pang-NISU lang, yung pwede magkaroon ng impact on a larger scope of the society.”, Mr. Escriba emphasized. Another notable milestone in the engagement that NISU can build upon is the approval of membership application of 23 of its faculty and personnel to the NRCP. With their membership, they will now be constantly in the loop of what is happening in the DOST ecosystem. More importantly, they will now be easily reached by the information regarding learning and research opportunities provided for by the NRCP to its members.

With the new researchers at NISU being introduced to the country’s research ecosystem adding to the number of researchers per million population, one of the indicators for SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure); and implementing their externally funded research projects aimed at contributing to the attainment of other SDGs, particularly SDGs 2 (No Hunger) and 14 (Life Below Water) at the fore, it is only a matter of time before NISUs presence and contributions are felt in the regional, national, and even international level.

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