Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, No. 7, April 13, 2012
Mark Century

Logan D.A. Williams

STS doctoral candidate Logan D.A. Williams recently served as an Environmental Policy Graduate Fellow at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya.

STS Doctoral Candidate Awarded Fellowships To Advance Research in Developing World

Doctoral candidate Logan D.A. Williams has been awarded two fellowships—from the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC) and the Council of Women World Leaders (CWWL)—to advance her research on innovation and technology transfer in the developing world.

Williams expects to receive her Ph.D. in science and technology studies (STS) in May 2013. Her dissertation focuses on avoidable blindness and innovations that are bringing sight-saving cataract surgery to poorer populations in Africa and Asia.

Currently, Williams is observing and interviewing individuals involved in cataract surgeries at Aravind Eye Care System in Madurai, India. Previously, she interned in the Research Department at Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Kathmandu, Nepal. Both experiences were made possible by the CAORC Multi-Country Research Fellowship Program, which supports advanced regional or transregional research in the humanities, social sciences, or allied natural sciences.

Williams also recently served as a CWWL Environmental Policy Graduate Fellow at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya. The fellowship program gives exceptional young women the opportunity to work directly with CWWL members and other women of influence in government ministries and international institutions.

At UNEP, Williams evaluated programs for gender mainstreaming in environmental policy and planning, and identified best practices. Although it did not relate directly to Williams’ dissertation, her work at UNEP reflected her broader research interests in processes of innovation and the political economy of sustainable world development. While in Nairobi, Williams continued her dissertation research at Lions Sight First Eye Hospital Loresho.

In Kenya, Nepal, and India, Williams saw firsthand how capacity building and technology transfer are revolutionizing cataract surgery in less economically developed countries (LEDCs).

“Each eye hospital has a slightly different way of building infrastructure and circulating innovation,” Williams said. "But what they have in common is that they’ve figured out how to provide cataract surgery at low cost—and often, free—to people who need it.”

About 39 million people worldwide suffer from avoidable blindness, with 51 percent of cases caused by cataracts. Although corrective surgery has long been available in the West, the technology is too expensive and the technique too time-consuming to duplicate in LEDCs.

Instead, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in LEDCs have appropriated and reinvented Western technology to develop ophthalmic products, new surgical techniques, and new hospital management practices that have dramatically reduced the cost and increased the efficiency of cataract surgery. Equally important is the collaboration that is bringing the surgery to as many patients as possible. Ophthalmologists from across Africa and South Asia (and a few from Australia and the United States) are traveling to eye hospitals in Kenya, Nepal, and India for training in cataract surgery. In India, training includes ophthalmology subspecialties, outreach camp management, and eye hospital management for increased efficiencies.

“One of the reasons I traveled to Kenya, Nepal, and India was to witness the way they’re circulating innovation," Williams said. "When people think of innovation, they typically think of private investment, government regulation, and commercial enterprise. Instead what I’m seeing here social enterprise by local NGOs, Western funders, and appropriate high technology—has been very effective."

According to her adviser, STS Professor Ron Eglash, Williams’ fieldwork "promises a new understanding of international research agenda-setting by examining how innovative knowledge is being produced and circulated by not-for-profit NGOs.

"This is an excellent project, and I cannot imagine a better candidate for this research," Eglash said. He cited Williams’ intellect, technical expertise, and passion for improving the lives of those who live in LEDCs. "She is a rising star," he said.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, Number 7, April 13, 2012
©2012 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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