Posted by Rob Knies

 Ed Cutrell

A couple of weeks ago, Ed Cutrell, research manager of the Technology for Emerging Markets group at Microsoft Research India, was announced as the latest member of the advisory board of the International Institute for Software Technology (IIST) at United Nations University (UNU).

The mission of the institute, headed by Peter Haddawy, senior scientist in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is to further the development and application of information and communication technology to address the pressing global challenges of sustainable development though education, research, capacity development, and policy support.

Having been unaware of the institute—and, indeed, of the existence of United Nations University, the academic arm of the United Nations—I was intrigued, so I contacted Cutrell to learn more. How, for example, did he get involved with the institute?

“This past year,” he said, “I was asked to participate in the process for the ProSPER.Net-Scopus Young Scientist Award in Sustainable Development [given annually to young Asia Pacific scientists or researchers who have made significant contributions to sustainable development]. They were introducing a new category, information and communications technologies [ICT] for sustainable development, and I was asked to chair the selection committee.

“In July, I flew to Manila for the final selection symposium and awards ceremony, where I met Peter. Over the course of the event, we had several conversations about the challenges and opportunities for research into how ICTs can be used to foster and sustain developing communities.”

As it turned out, Haddawy had decided to make ICT for sustainable development a primary focus, and he asked Cutrell to join the six-person board. For Cutrell, the institute held a particular allure: Unlike most research institutions pursuing work in the field of ICT for development (ICTD), the UNU-IIST effort was based in developing nations, not in North America or Europe.

“One of the things that excites me about the new direction for UNU-IIST,” he said, “is the potential for cultivating multidisciplinary research in ICTD that is directed toward the needs and aspirations of developing communities locally in the countries in the Asia Pacific region. Just as important, the institute is dedicated to training researchers from around the world in this exciting area—the UNU-IIST is one of the few institutions in the region working to train young researchers in interdisciplinary work that addresses the many pressing social and policy issues we are facing.”

For Cutrell, the new role is a natural extension of the work he’s been pursuing since relocating to India from Redmond in 2010.

“As a member of the Technology for Emerging Markets team, I have had the immense privilege to work with one of the premier ICTD research groups in the world,” Cutrell said. “It is my hope that I can use that experience to help the UNU-IIST reach its full potential for groundbreaking interdisciplinary research with real impact for developing communities in the region and around the world.”