Joe Woods has been assigned by the Fraunhofer Institute as its regional representative in the Mediterranean. Having been involved in the domestic information technology field Woods believes globalisation and European Union membership are bringing new opportunities to Malta.
He argues that these opportunities could use Malta’s size and geo-strategic position in developing cutting-edge science and technology initiatives. “Our size and expertise in certain science and technology themes such as ICT provides us with the opportunity to use Malta for developing new cutting edge applications and using the island not just as a test bed but also as a distribution centre for the Mediterranean region,” Woods says.
The National ICT strategy process started at the Malta Council for Science and Technology in 1991. But it was in 2004 that Minister for IT Austin Gatt presented the National ICT strategy for 2005 – 2007 to the Prime Minister.
Woods says the issue that needs to be addressed is why a good idea takes 13 years to become mainstream policy. “How can we develop the proper framework so that such ideas are taken in as soon as they are rationalised?” he asks.
The concept of using Malta as a test bed (Prototype Malta) is not only applicable to ICT but even in health and renewable energy sectors. Woods believes Malta could become a pioneer in these areas and sell its capabilities and technologies to emerging markets in Africa and the Middle East.
There is discussion going on regarding competiveness, what role does science and technology play, in enhancing and sustaining competiveness?
Competiveness is a very complex subject but one of its core competencies is its ability to use science and technology to create, produce, deliver and sustain innovative business products and services.
You have been involved in science and technology since 1992 at the Malta Council for Science and Technology and then as a technology broker. Certain people seem to think that because we are a small nation we are limited in terms of what we can do in science and technology. What do you think?
It is true that being small we cannot be all things to all men but if we focus on certain themes we stand a very good chance of moving forward. Our size could also be a very important strategic advantage. Using Malta as a test-bed for cutting edge science and technology products and services could be a very viable opportunity.
What in your opinion could be done?
First of all we need to educate our politicians and decision makers of the important role that science and technology plays in social and economic development. Secondly we need to consolidate and empower our science and technology educational delivery systems. We must encourage our University, Colleges and secondary schools to re-engineer the way they teach science and technology and help them to develop a research and development culture. Thirdly we need to work with the financial institutions and encourage them to finance science and technology. Finally we need to empower and motivate private enterprise to invest and inculcate science and technology in its business processes.
Has accession of the European Union helped us in moving forward?
Yes, for sure, but we need to do more. Participation in the EU framework programmes could be enhanced by having a solid and robust entity that manages, directs and coordinates this programme for Maltese organisations. Apart from having a solid national coordination organisation we then need to sit down with the various players and develop a strategic approach to EU financing programmes. Although we have been participating for more than four years, we have not managed to develop this capacity building approach.
During 2004 you were appointed as regional representative for the Mediterranean region for the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology (SIT). What is the Fraunhofer Institute?
The Fraunhofer Institute is a network of around 58 science and technology centres around Germany. They employ 13,000 scientists and engineers and provide research and development services to government and industry. They are also very involved in EU programmes. I am involved with this Institute which has various offices in Darmstadt and St. Augustine just outside Bonn.
What is Fraunhofer’s interest in Malta?
In September 2003 I managed to invite two representatives from SIT to visit Malta. They were impressed by the interest they saw in science and technology and the potential that Malta has to act as a node of transfer of technology between the European and North African countries. They were also very interested in the concept of using Malta as a prototype in cutting edge technologies.
We have had various exchange visits since 2003 and we are currently working on various initiatives that will benefit Fraunhofer and the local business community.
What are your feelings about the future for science and technology in Malta?
Considering the encouragement and support that Malta Enterprise is providing, taking into consideration also the enthusiasm by private enterprise and our ability to network with institutions such as Fraunhofer I think the science and technology community both at educational or commercial level has a great future. It needs to be grasped.