Achal, Isha and Ugo - New Alumni

by Chris McGivern & SF Team, 26 August 2019

Featured Image
Created by Michael Kappel (CC BY-NC 2.0)

On September 1st, Achal Prabhala, Isha Datar and Ugo Vallauri moved on from their fellowships and advanced to Shuttleworth Alumni status.

Each of our former fellows enjoyed the maximum duration of three years funding, and made impressive strides forward with their progressive work, pushing for positive change in the respective fields of access to medicines, cellular agriculture and the repair economy. Despite their disparate professional interests, there is a common thread linking our new trio of alumni: their ability to open the right doors; pull people together, and build up communities for optimal effect.

It has been an honour to support their journeys so far, both with their projects and as fully committed and engaged members of the Shuttleworth community. As fellows, they will be sorely missed; as alumni, they are warmly welcomed.

Achal Prabhala has been tackling access to medicine issues for most of his professional career so far. The last three years have been spent with AccessIBSA, a project created for his fellowship as a vehicle to reform intellectual property frameworks in medicine across three specific countries: India, Brazil and South Africa. His focus has been on changing policy, backed by scientific research and relentless lobbying, and we believe he has been highly successful: not just by increasing access in all three nations, but also by shifting global thinking around the institution of higher patent standards and extending the reach of pro-access initiatives.

In India - the country that inspired this work to a large extent - Achal had unfinished business. He was amongst a group of activists who had successfully pushed for change in the Indian patent law but felt a need to return because of inaction and/or indifference towards the new policy. His work in India has involved changing the culture, practices and guidelines to ensure patent offices cope better in implementing the new regulations.

In South Africa, there is the exciting possibility of a law change. Again, backed with academic research and an ability to put access issues in front of the right people, the South African government agreed to take on policy suggestions making it harder for pharmaceutical companies to take advantage. Brazil has been a trickier prospect due to political instability and - towards the end of his fellowship - regime change. In spite of the inflexible political environment, several excellent academic papers from Brazil offer significant hope for future progress.

Achal’s fellowship has shone a rare light on a highly secretive industry. He has tried to introduce openness into the system, successfully making it less closed. And the range of materials published by AccessIBSA will help people break free from the indoctrinated way many of us think about intellectual property. Policy change does not always make a difference - it can be easy to reverse - but Achal’s particular brand of activism makes success more likely. It’s a three-dimensional process: get the weight of the institutions behind you first, before working to change the guidelines, practices and perceptions.

Isha Datar is potentiating world-changing ideas around consumption and the environment with New Harvest. The way we consume food - and produce it - must change if we are to steer away from environmental disaster while ensuring everyone gets access to the nutrition they need for a healthy life. Plant-based alternatives to meat are a possible solution and are low-hanging fruit for investment and attention. But there is another option with huge potential.

New Harvest operates in the nascent field of cellular agriculture, with a focus on growing animal products without animals. Isha’s initial plan for her highly successful fellowship was to build a lab and run research to create cell cultures needed for lab-grown meat. But shortly into her first year, she made the decision to adjust strategy. Since then, the focus has been on seeding essential research projects to push the movement forward into new territory and bringing the nascent community together with events such as the New Harvest annual conference.

This field is still incredibly young, and we are a long way from seeing lab-grown burgers flying off the grills in fast food joints. But, by creating the fundamental tools and making them as openly available as possible, Isha is ensuring speedier progress. While her questions about whether this is viable, desirable or scalable are essential, as the community grows, it will become more capable in finding the answers.

Isha has firmly embraced the Foundation’s open approach in an emerging field that would typically default to closed. She has borrowed from our fellowship model to create a similar programme for New Harvest and has no desire to take ownership of this field - simply to give others agency, and help them collaborate, learn and be loud in communicating results. New Harvest is now in a fantastic position to progress, with significant funding delivering positive signs of a long and fruitful future.

Ugo Vallauri worked on the Restart Project throughout his fellowship, to help people learn how to repair electronics and rethink how they consume them. The right to repair movement poses some serious questions for the wider world: What is the environmental impact of electronic waste? Do we really own our devices if they are subject to the whims of software companies who actively design products with limited useful life? And how do we change the throwaway culture that has become so prevalent - especially in the West - in contemporary times.

Ugo has made astonishing progress over the course of his fellowship. When he first launched this idea, he and a small group of friends were running small repair parties and fixing toasters in London; now he is influencing in the EU. In between, he has been behind the birth of the Open Repair Alliance and kickstarted an approach of data collection to document and highlight critical barriers to repair. This aggregated data will form part of the evidence in support of the new legislation on Right to Repair and future eco-design requirements.

He has succeeded thanks to hard work, exceptional foresight, a highly collaborative approach, and no small amount of savviness and charm. He has been able to see - and grasp - opportunities in different groups and galvanise them to work together to significant effect and for the greater good.

By being open in their approach, Ugo and Restart show that consumers, manufacturers and policymakers can break from the norm and do things differently. And in doing so, they have gently nudged the right to repair movement towards a more open environment.

Thank you, Ugo, Isha and Achal!

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