Sputnik Again? Bill Gates Calls for Innovation Transformation

October 13, 2016

by Dr. Ronnie Lowenstein, ASTRA Senior Advisor and Futurist

As ASTRA’s Executive Advisor and Futurist, I applaud the perspectives so eloquently expressed by Bill Gates in the video Why Governments Should Invest in Innovation and in his print column  ‘Accelerating Innovation with Leadership,‘ first published in GatesNotes.com.

ASTRA commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Sputnik Launch on October 4, 2007 with a Special Briefing held in conjunction with the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, D.C. The Briefing "Sputnik Again?  The State of U.S. Competitiveness, Security and Science on the 50th Anniversary of the Sputnik Launch" punctuated ASTRA's now 17-year effort to awaken the public about 1) the perils of underinvesting in our U.S. scientific and engineering research infrastructures and 2) to get action from policy makers to focus on how we can foster and grow our innovation ecosystem systematically and efficiently.

Like ASTRA’s leadership, Gates understands that the success of any nation is dependent on their cultivating their innovation capacity.  We at ASTRA have long chanted, ‘Innovate — or Abdicate our Leadership Edge.’  

ASTRA (www.usinnovation.org) and its partners, including SETWG (www.setcvd.org) and Gates recognize the importance of government support for Science, Technology and Research in America and the strategies that allow research to inform policy and advance practice.  Gates is clear in his assertion that ‘innovation starts with government support for the research labs and universities working on new insights that entrepreneurs can turn into companies that change the world."

Gates also acknowledges what ASTRA has spotlighted in the Preface of its e-book: EDTECH Revolution in 2013: The State of Digital and Distance Learning

We are living in a ’liminal moment,’ a turbulent time with societies between and betwixt, where old structures have broken down and new ones have not yet taken their place.’

In his recent communiqués,  Gates issues a clarion call for transformative leadership to accelerate innovation and address global challenges.

As a rationale, Gates cites the Sputnik moment of 1957 when President Eisenhower mobilized our government to consolidate its squabbling civilian and military scientific and engineering bureaucracies, to "think different," and to create what became NASA on October 1, 1958.  He then makes reference to then President John F Kennedy, who in May of 1961 summoned our country to dream big, and to harness American ingenuity to land a man on the moon within a decade.  

President Kennedy demonstrated that he had both the vision and political will to unleash innovation within both the public and private sector to advance progress.  Like ASTRA’s leadership, Gates perceives that today we are once again living at a pivotal moment of cultural and political turmoil.   It is a time of extreme peril, as well as potential opportunity — a pivot point that makes our country ripe for ‘transformative innovations' which are well underway in all aspects of our lives.

So as we look to the future, we at ASTRA recommit to our core mission to ensure America develops its innovation capacity.   And that means through adequate funding of scientific and engineering research and development, increasing the STEM skills and capacities of our workforce and our kids, and focusing on how America, the leader in transforming the world into a better place through technology and science — liberating billions of less fortunate souls from material poverty, misery and suffering in so many ways they cannot be enumerated — cannot let down its leadership and abdicate its role.

If not us, who?

Like Gates, ASTRA invites all those Transformative Leaders from government, private sector, community based groups and academia who have vision and will, to join us in a Global Community of Innovation Practice.  Together let us create the synergies to partner and achieve together what no one institution or country, can do alone. 

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Do contact our Executive Director, Robert Boege at rboege@comcast.net to let us know how we can collaboratively innovate, and foster collective intelligence to solve global challenges and shape a better world.