033 – IDEMS’ Vision and Mission

The IDEMS Podcast
The IDEMS Podcast
033 – IDEMS' Vision and Mission


David and Santiago delve deeply into IDEMS’ vision and mission. David explains how these guide most of what IDEMS does and engages in, while going into detail about their meaning and implications.

[00:00:00] Santiago: Hi, and welcome to the IDEMS podcast. I am Santiago Borio, an Impact Activation Fellow, and I’m here with David Stern, founding director of IDEMS. Hi, David.

[00:00:20] David: Hi, Santiago. We’re discussing mission and vision today. Exciting.

[00:00:25] Santiago: Yes! It is something that most companies have and advertise in their websites, but I don’t think they live by it necessarily as much as we do. And getting into our mission and vision it’s important because it informs so much of what we do.

[00:00:50] David: Well, and also our mission and vision is not actually that well received within IDEMS, which is interesting. Danny and myself have actually had discussions about this recently that we really like it.

But others within the organisation don’t, and so I’m really happy to have this discussion. I’m not going to go into at this point the criticisms why some people don’t resonate. I want to sort of have this episode to be able to say this is why I like our mission and vision, even if other people don’t like it, and even if we’re going to have to change it soon. I at least want to talk about this mission and vision while it’s ours because it means a lot to Danny and myself.

[00:01:35] Santiago: Great. And just for reference, Danny is the other founding director of IDEMS.

[00:01:40] David: Thank you, yes.

[00:01:42] Santiago: So shall we start with the vision?

[00:01:47] David: I think we should. That’s, that’s the big thing.

[00:01:50] Santiago: So, the strapline of the vision is Impacting Grand Challenges.

[00:01:56] David: That’s the vision. Arguably, reflecting on it, we could add a word, it could be positively impacting grand challenges. We’re not wanting to negatively make the world worse, we’re wanting to make the world a better place. And so, our hope is, as a vision, we will be happy if IDEMS is positively impacting Grand Challenges.

[00:02:19] Santiago: I think anyone that listens to this podcast or knows IDEMS would get that positive implicitly. So, positively impacting grand challenges.

[00:02:31] David: The main thing of course, which is one of the criticisms is a lot of people don’t actually resonate with the word ‘grand challenges’. They don’t understand what that means. It’s something which has become part of development landscape vocabulary. The Gates Foundation has adopted this as a big part of what it does and how it thinks. So it isn’t our wording, but it is not universally understood or universal wording.

[00:02:59] Santiago: Maybe that’s why it’s described or defined somewhat in the website.

[00:03:05] David: And particularly the relationship of grand challenges being ‘wicked problems’, which is again a term which is understood in certain circles, but it’s not widely used. That’s an interesting discussion, which I’m sure we’ll dig into, what does it mean?

[00:03:24] Santiago: I was hoping we would do very soon another episode specifically on wicked problems. But maybe a very brief description.

[00:03:37] David: I like the idea of recognizing that grand challenges are essentially developmental wicked problems. If you want wicked problems in development, international development, whatever that may mean. And so wicked problems are problems where you cannot have a solution. My favourite example of a wicked problem is education. Secondary school education is being able to educate your population as a whole within a country.

That is a wicked problem. Because it doesn’t matter how well you do, there’s always elements that could be improved, there’s elements which should be studied, there is no solution to that problem. You can work on it as a developmental challenge. How can you improve secondary school education in a country is a fantastic example, for me, of a wicked problem. There’s no solution, but there are things which can be done, and it’s complex, and if you improve one aspect, you then might find that there’s another aspect which needs addressing. And so, there’s just complexity behind it.

[00:04:52] Santiago: And it’s an almost unbounded process.

[00:04:58] David: Yes, it’s unbounded, in this particular case. Healthcare is another example. You could make healthcare as good as you want, but there’s no end to what you could do, where you could say healthcare is solved.

[00:05:13] Santiago: Yes, there’s loads of underlying issues in specific contexts about how healthcare is provided and so on. Those can be tackled, but healthcare as a whole will never be solved, there’s always going to be improvements to be made in systems, in processes, in problems that arise, and so on.

[00:05:37] David: Exactly, however good you are at providing healthcare, there will be problems to address within healthcare. This is a fantastic example of what it means to be a wicked problem.

[00:05:51] Santiago: Yes, and the same applies to education which is more directly related to one of our areas of work.

[00:05:58] David: And what you particularly care about.

[00:06:00] Santiago: And what I particularly care about, exactly. And I’ve seen this happen, where, you know, you propose a solution, you apply the solution, you make improvements, but those improvements might lead to some kids doing better than others.

[00:06:17] David: Exactly. This is a wonderful example. If you provide innovations in education, which help some children more than others, you’re creating inequalities in education. Yes, maybe on average you’ve improved education, but you’ve also maybe increased inequalities. If you provide other innovations where you could decrease inequality, maybe you’re holding some children back. There’s all sorts of issues, there’s no end to the complexity. There’s no solution to education.

[00:06:50] Santiago: And we already discussed the need for an episode on the UK’s policy of leave no child behind in that sense.

[00:06:57] David: Absolutely.

[00:06:58] Santiago: Because it led in some ways to the more academic students being not neglected but not…

[00:07:06] David: Well, it created, I think… We shouldn’t dig into the problem it created. What we should recognize is that because education is a wicked problem, that was seen as a sort of silver bullet solution to improving education. But any intervention, both has positives and negatives. And not to recognize that when you’re working with wicked problems is what leads to bigger problems. The recognition needs to be that there’s always compromise, there’s always positives and negatives, but there are reasons to make certain decisions or to prioritize certain things over others.

But if you claim to have a solution, you probably haven’t understood the problem because it’s a wicked problem. There is no solution.

[00:07:51] Santiago: Yes, and that leads nicely to one of our sort of bullet points in the website. You mentioned silver bullet solutions, and we say that we accept complexity. And silver bullet solutions are excluded from our vision.

[00:08:11] David: Well, I think this is the key point, and this isn’t from us. I want to be clear, we’re researchers at heart, so we’ve actually done some of the literature on this. If you’re going to deal with wicked problems, how do you actually work? How should you actually work? And there seems to be some consensus, it’s not fully established, but these three points that we’ve brought out are all really important and they really resonate with us about how we work and what we do. And this is related to the fact that at the heart of things, what we’re trying to do is to work on these wicked problems, these, these grand challenges.

This is accepting complexity, which is the one you’ve mentioned. Building incrementally, this is not trying to jump to the end, but recognizing that it’s an it’s an incremental process. And the third one, which is really difficult, I find, is being explicitly coherent. One of the things which has happened in the past, is exactly this idea that we tend to forget history and so we repeat the same mistakes. And so being explicitly coherent is part of basically trying to get yourself out of these cycles where you jump from one extreme to the other because when you go too far one way, then the problems manifest as you needing to go to the other extreme, and so you jump to the other extreme, and now you’re too far towards the other extreme, and you jump back, forgetting the problems when you go too far that way. And so it’s that element of being explicitly coherent, which can help break some of these cycles which have been observed in education.

[00:09:54] Santiago: Not just in education. I’ve seen that happen at government level so many times where one government comes in from a different position to the previous government and just scraps everything that the previous government has done.

[00:10:07] David: And this is exactly the element to understanding the problems of not taking these approaches when you are working on grand challenges, complex problems, wicked problems.

[00:10:20] Santiago: And I would like to highlight a word in that explicitly coherent section: communications.

[00:10:32] David: Yeah, not our strength, unfortunately.

[00:10:34] Santiago: Not our strength, but we’re working on it.

[00:10:37] David: We’re trying, this is what we’re doing now. We’re learning how to communicate. And this is part of what we’re trying to do, getting better at being coherent in our communication, explicitly making our thinking visible.

[00:10:51] Santiago: And having that communication for thinking is essential, as it’s stated, to enable that consistency, because if we don’t communicate those things clearly, then different members of the team could understand things differently and take a non coherent approach to these challenges or innovations or projects.

[00:11:22] David: It’s more complex than that because you want that diversity. I mean, that’s one of our principles as a company is to embrace diversity. We want a diverse set of perspectives. We’re not wanting everybody to think the same. We do want coherence. And this is really powerful. To recognize that diversity is not necessarily in competition with coherence.

[00:11:43] Santiago: That’s not what I meant necessarily.

[00:11:45] David: I know, but this is what I heard when I heard you saying that. We’re not trying to get everyone to think the same.

[00:11:52] Santiago: No, we’re trying to have everyone to understand the underlying thought process.

[00:11:59] David: And to be able to then reconcile their diverse thought processes, challenge the thought processes which have been exposed and help us to iterate and refine them not to get to the same place but to get to coherence. And that’s a really subtle thought that diversity is important.

[00:12:21] Santiago: And one of the most wonderful things about working in IDEMS has been how you’ve been successful with Danny to create an atmosphere where everyone is heard. And if anyone has any challenges to your thinking, you’re welcome to listen to it and engage in discussion and sometimes refine it.

[00:12:45] David: And iterate, and this is again, it’s this building incrementally. We don’t believe we have the answers. This is the whole point of working on grand challenges, that if you think you have the answers, then you are surely mistaken.

We love actually recognising that what we have are insights, not answers. And there’s a difference. And being able to try and build from the insights. The insights are about maybe the next step, or maybe the complexity as we understand it. Those insights, if you ignore them, then you can get to very different conclusions. But that doesn’t mean we have answers.

[00:13:30] Santiago: Yes, and that resonates with me as well in something that was mentioned in another episode, I can’t remember which one it was where you mentioned, I think it was with Lucie, how sometimes we are coming in as the experts and sometimes we are coming in as supporters of the experts in a particular area.

[00:13:51] David: And when we are experts, there is this element, which I love, that I didn’t realise I was an expert until I realized how much I didn’t know about other things. And therefore in the narrow things where I did know, and this is where I had the privilege, my particular PhD, by the time I got to the end of it, there were five people in the world who actually understood my work. So I could genuinely say I was an expert in that particular area. And that helped me to recognise how ignorant I was in so many other areas, because I knew so much about that very narrow, very specific process. And that’s then helped me recognise that the combination of the ignorance of experts is so important in this. So being an expert and recognising your ignorance actually sometimes go hand in hand.

[00:14:49] Santiago: That’s quite interesting. Yes, and knowing what you don’t know, it’s very difficult as well.

[00:14:58] David: Exactly, and that to me is where, when I interact with real experts, what really comes to the forefront is how much they recognise they don’t know. I would argue, I’d almost say this is the definition of an expert. An expert to me is very rarely defined by what they know. It’s by actually how much they recognize they don’t yet know. That’s what I find interacting with real world experts. They know a huge amount, but they are always so conscious of the things that they don’t yet know.

And therefore they overcautious because there’s so much they recognize they don’t know. And this is so important to me, in this idea of Impacting Grand Challenges. I really believe experts are an important part of that. They are not the only part, and we recognize that very strongly. The value of experts and the limitation of experts, and the role they should play in any process like this.

[00:15:56] Santiago: And often world experts, the wicked problems have different forms different contexts, and the world expert might be an expert on a particular context and not understand certain contexts we’re trying to work at.

[00:16:14] David: No, well, very specifically, our whole academic systems are set up to build experts that are specialized. Wicked problems don’t apply in a specific area. They often touch on many different things. So let me come back to education, which I know you love, nice wicked problem to do. Experts in education, they’re often related to individual levels, so you might have an expert who is an expert at training teachers in mathematics for secondary school in algebra.

That might be their narrow expertise, but they could be the world experts at that. But the grand challenge is not related to their narrow expertise, it’s all about understanding and balancing how all the different experts who might know different things come together to build something coherent.

Almost always there is a limiting factor, it might be at a given point in time, the limiting factor is the teaching of algebra. And this is where there was a grand challenge in the US, funded by the Gates Foundation, around teaching algebra at secondary school level. And this was put forward as a grand challenge. And this is very narrow. But even that was considered a grand challenge.

[00:17:39] Santiago: And we tried to propose a solution that unfortunately we didn’t manage to…

[00:17:45] David: Yeah, we did try to build a collaboration around that. Our thoughts on impacting that particular grand challenge weren’t received well enough to be funded, you could say.

[00:17:55] Santiago: The other thing related to this, which we touched on several times already, but the accepting complexity has a bit on transdisciplinarity. The world expert being so specific, we need that transdisciplinarity in order to be able to start even thinking of these grand challenges.

[00:18:18] David: And this is why actually many world experts, I would argue, aren’t working on Grand Challenges. Almost by definition, because our academic systems are set up that world experts are derived in their specific area of expertise. And therefore, they are designed to address problems which are, by definition, not grand challenges. They are solvable.

And this is something which is a really interesting contradiction, I find, almost, in our academic systems, versus some of the needs we face as society. And it’s really exciting. And this is where I would come back to the fact that have transdisciplinarity as one of the key principles behind IDEMS and we are less interested in being academically relevant and more interested in our vision. We want to Impact Grand Challenges, even if that means it takes us away from our expertise.

[00:19:18] Santiago: There is a question before we move on to our mission that I wanted to ask you. We have this vision of impacting grand challenges. Have we succeeded at any point in Impacting Grand Challenges, or do you have any examples of success? What does success look like in Impacting Grown Challenges?

[00:19:42] David: The vision for an organisation doesn’t need to be achievable. It’s what should be guiding you. This is really important, our vision. This is what is guiding us and it’s driving us. Everything we do is towards this. Actually achieving this, that’s a difficult thing to claim.

And there are people who do make claims around doing this. I would be very hesitant to do so at this point in time. And I would argue that we certainly don’t have strong evidence that we have positively impacted a grand challenge that I would care about and be able to define. I wonder whether we ever will, but almost all our work, I could actually tell you how this relates to grand challenges I care about, I can tell you the positive impact of that work. Whether that would actually have moved the needle on the grand challenge in any given case in a meaningful way that I really care about, I don’t know. And this is part of the problem of grand challenges.

[00:20:50] Santiago: Yes, and this reminds me of our principle of viral scaling. You need that viral scaling in order to have an impact on grand challenge.

[00:21:00] David: I believe that’s true. I mean, that scalability as part of taking on the grand challenges, I believe is true. And the criticism, maybe I will mention the criticism people have of our vision, is that it doesn’t say anything. Well, it doesn’t say anything, but it does. To me, it really speaks. It guides me every day on what I want to do, what I want to achieve.

[00:21:24] Santiago: And what you want to engage in.

[00:21:26] David: What I want to engage in, exactly. And the fact that that could be so diverse, we’re not saying which grand challenge we’re trying to achieve. So, a recent grand challenge which is emerging, which we’ve engaged with, is the grand challenge related to AI and what it means for society. Our role in this is trying to promote responsible AI and help people to understand how to take this on responsibly. We’ve not moved the dial on that in any meaningful way yet, but that is an example of an emerging grand challenge which has really grown over the last couple of years, and which we therefore have responded by trying to engage in it. Even though we were not at the forefront of it before it became what I would consider a grand challenge.

But now it is a grand challenge? Well, opportunities presented themselves and we engaged. This is what we are about. We really want to take on and work with whoever we need to work with, to take on and move the dial on some of these grand challenges. And that’s a hard thing to do. If we ever had evidence we’ve been able to do it, I would be a happy man. I’m not sure we ever were.

[00:22:38] Santiago: And you mentioned a grand challenge that is emerging in responsible AI and so on. And you mentioned the Gates Foundation setting out a grand challenge in algebra or related to algebra.

[00:22:54] David: Secondary teaching of algebra.

[00:22:56] Santiago: Who defines grand challenges, or where did it come from, is there a set, or what makes a challenge a Grand Challenge?

[00:23:03] David: Well, there are different people, and there are people who have lists of Grand Challenges and this sort of thing, and that’s all fine and good, and I’m not against that at all. For me, a Grand Challenge is defined as a wicked problem in development. That’s what I would consider as a Grand Challenge. To me all you need to do is understand what makes a wicked problem to answer the question of whether something is a grand challenge or not. Is it a wicked problem?

[00:23:34] Santiago: So let’s have our episode on wicked problems soon then.

[00:23:38] David: Absolutely. Dig into that and understand wicked problems better. I love the concept. It’s a really interesting concept, but in our way of thinking, the element of working on these grand challenges, one of the ways I believe we come about them is that grand challenges do relate to these approaches: accepting complexity, building incrementally, and being explicitly coherent. Where those are the tools we have to try and actually move the dialogue. So in some sense, the problems where those are the right tools is another way of seeing the sort of things that we like to engage in, which are these grand challenges.

[00:24:25] Santiago: Okay, I think that that’s a good point to switch to our mission. If you don’t mind, unless you want some final thoughts on the vision?

[00:24:33] David: Well, the mission is actually, of course, intended to be more concrete and really explicitly say how we work, what we do towards working on our vision.

[00:24:47] Santiago: So, as stated in the website our mission is Working collaboratively with diverse partners to enable the evolution of innovations which can impact lives all over the world. That doesn’t sound too concrete to me.

[00:25:02] David: That’s extremely concrete. That every word in that is important, and this is why nobody likes our vision and mission, but to me it’s extremely concrete.

[00:25:12] Santiago: Okay, go on.

[00:25:13] David: Well. Working collaboratively, you know, collaboration is one of our principles. So this mentions very explicitly how we work. This element of actually prioritizing collaboration as an approach as being central to what we do. With diverse partners, accepting diversity, valuing diversity, not just in what we do, but in who we work with and recognizing the value that if you’re going to collaborate, it’s not about always collaborating with the same people. It’s bringing in that diversity to that collaboration.

[00:25:47] Santiago: And that builds on what we’ve discussed with world experts and so on.

[00:25:52] David: Exactly. The world experts are important in this and valuable, but they are only one type of partner. If we only work with world experts, then we’re not getting local knowledge, we’re not understanding context. We’re not getting this transdisciplinarity in the right way and so on. So we need to be able to have this diversity of partnerships, which is central. Again, this is one of our principles, diversity.

[00:26:12] Santiago: And one of the reasons why we helped set up our Kenyan and Ghanaian counterparts as well, to have that local…

[00:26:19] David: Absolutely, to build those partners who are well aligned, who can help us have more partnerships and other perspectives and build their own expertise in certain ways. Absolutely.

To enable the evolution of innovations. And this is actually three separate things. This is us playing the role of an enabler. It’s this element of not us being the innovator necessarily. You know, we have local innovation as one of our principles. It’s enabling the innovation, but it’s not just any innovation, it’s recognizing another of our principles continually evolving, recognizing the importance of being able to support that evolution and support that innovation and that both are important and necessary.

[00:27:12] Santiago: And of course, another of our principles comes in here in capacity building.

[00:27:18] David: Absolutely. That sort of part of the enabling that comes into the enabling. I would argue that the approach of viral scaling is also within this element of enabling. So that enabling element is about recognising that your not the one scaling, you’re enabling others to scale. So that’s also related in. Our principles are very tied into this mission.

…Which can impact lives all over the world. Now this is a really interesting one. And of course, just like our Grand Challenges is our vision, this is related to our vision, so we’re wanting positive impact. Again, the assumption behind impact is that it’s positive. That’s assumed. And it’s positive impact on lives. We had considered livelihoods, but we recognise that actually just impacting lives is really important because there’s so many different ways, it’s not just about livelihoods. And that’s important because that’s putting people at the centre.

[00:28:18] Santiago: And I think a great example is the Parenting for Lifelong Health project. That it’s not about the livelihood, it’s about the relationship between parents and their children.

[00:28:30] David: Although one of their measures is livelihood related. So they do actually have a positive impact on livelihood, which is a very interesting result, which they measure. And this is all very interesting, how intertwined and complex these things are.

Actually, really, we think for Grand Challenges, we need to be thinking about things which are not just somewhere, but where the scaling can touch everyone. So if we had an element of innovation, where it was only possible to impact people of a certain type, whatever that might be, and often this is related to resources, what resources they have access to or not, then we should always be asking ourselves, well, what about the others? That’s part of how we should be working. Our mission is to work in that way that we always consider who is excluded, who’s at the margin, who’s not considered by what we’re doing.

[00:29:31] Santiago: Okay. I was reading that all over the world quite differently. I was reading it as , you know, we care quite strongly about the developing world, but we are not bounded to work only in the developing world. We look for projects in the UK as well. We tried to get a grant with the Gates Foundation in the US.

[00:29:55] David: No, but I think what’s important is, you know, this term developing world is one which I’m never really comfortable with. I much prefer low resource environments to capture the idea you’re trying to deal with that. But, but even that, it’s not about low resource or high resource or any other distinction you can find, there is this element of trying to think really about inclusivity as being central.

Who is excluded so that you consider them as well? This is really important to me. And that’s really what this is saying. Lives all over the world is about this element of inclusivity that we should be considering. It does not say all lives in the world which is a subtle difference. So it isn’t necessarily everyone. It is different to everyone.

But it is lives all over the world that if there are big groups who are excluded, then we should be worried about that and considering that. This is a subtle difference. There’s a lot packed into that sentence.

[00:31:01] Santiago: There is indeed.

[00:31:02] David: You can see, it speaks to me, the mission and vision. Impacting Grand Challenges is so simple, but it speaks to me so much. Just like the mission, where, OK, there’s a little bit more to this, but it really does capture what I feel is so important. What’s so interesting, though, is people who want to help us communicate what IDEMS is, well, it’s packing too much in, it’s not accessible to us.

[00:31:31] Santiago: We spent about five minutes breaking down a single sentence. Can someone looking at the website take that in and understand what we mean by it?

[00:31:43] David: Maybe not, but this is where again, we need to come back to our vision, which is to Impact Grand Challenges. And as part of impacting grand challenges, we need to accept complexity. We can summarize, which is what that sentence does, but to unpack it and to understand it, that takes a bit more. And if you don’t want that complexity, well, then that’s not us. We accept complexity.

[00:32:07] Santiago: And maybe we should put a link to this episode on the website in that section as well.

[00:32:12] David: I think that’s a great idea. I think we should. And maybe if we do that, we could convince some others in our team who want us to communicate this more clearly that maybe it’s okay to stick with the vision and mission we’ve got. I am open to us changing this. So it might be that by the time the listener, whoever the listener now might be, is listening to this, the IDEMS mission and vision might have changed.

I’m okay with that. But I love the mission and vision as they are. They’ve stood us well for six years in the fact that myself and my fellow director have not deviated from them. Admittedly, they haven’t stood as well in terms of communicating to anyone else what we do or why we do it, what we care about.

So, there is a reason to maybe change them and to work on them from a communication perspective. But from our perspective, I love them.

[00:33:06] Santiago: We do have the principle of continually evolving, maybe the vision and mission should or could evolve in the future.

[00:33:16] David: They should evolve. I recognize that, that they should be evolving. At the moment, I still don’t have anything I prefer. So I’m looking forward to a process which actually helps us get to the stage where we could get to the mission and revision that I prefer.

[00:33:33] Santiago: And we are now recruiting non executive directors who could potentially influence and help guide this communication and these definitions as well.

[00:33:46] David: Well, we are at a position where our governance structures do need to change in all sorts of different ways. We’ve grown so much, we’ve grown so fast. We are in a different place, and that’s where this is a time where we should be considering changing these, making them more accessible maybe, getting others on board. So, we are becoming visible maybe for the first time, that’s why we’ve now got podcasts. We’re trying to make our thinking, our internal thinking externally available. So, yes, it’s a moment of transition for us.

[00:34:20] Santiago: Okay. Now, let me mention, at least, before we finish. In the website we have a mission and a social mission.

[00:34:34] David: Yes. I think that’s important. Maybe just very quickly, because we’ve already talked about many elements of our social mission in other episodes.

[00:34:42] Santiago: Particularly in episode two, where we broke down what IDEMS means.

[00:34:48] David: Absolutely. It talks about development, education, the mathematical sciences, what this means, this idea that in development, we’re enabling innovations to flourish, to improve quality of life. That’s what we’ve got. But broadly, it’s about affecting people in poverty and in particular, but in general, enabling innovations to flourish, that improve quality of life. It’s a really nice way of capsulating everything. Education, the way we framed it is impacting professionals and academic outcomes of education systems, even in difficult environments. That doesn’t resonate as strongly with me as maybe other things do, because I don’t just want to change the education systems, I want to change education within the system, outside the system, informal education, formal education. That’s tried to be captured by professional and academic, but it’s not, it’s more than that, it’s more than just education systems. And this focus on difficult environments for education I think is important, but it’s not all that we’re trying to do.

[00:35:49] Santiago: But we’re saying even in difficult environments, not exclusively in difficult environments.

[00:35:55] David: That is true. And, and it is this element that difficult environments are central to our work. We want to be able to take the difficult environments and find solutions that work there with the expectation that they will work elsewhere as well.

And the mathematical sciences, this is really important, I’ll read what we’ve got, which is to contribute to the strengthening of the mathematical sciences, both as a discipline and as a tool for social change.

And I think the latter is very evident within IDEMS. The former really comes back to the fact that actually, when I was a mathematician, before I even became a mathematical scientist, when I was simply a mathematician, I loved the fact that I didn’t need to have an application. I could just tackle the problems because there were things that weren’t known, which I could investigate and I could try to build new knowledge. And that knowledge for knowledge’s sake, in the discipline, we value it, even if it is not really part of IDEMS, but to be able to strengthen others to do that. We’re never going to be the organization doing pure maths research, but I would certainly hope that we as an organization contribute to people who go on to find careers and to contribute to that knowledge for knowledge’s sake, for disciplines within the mathematical sciences.

[00:37:20] Santiago: And of course it’s a virtuous cycle because we’re recognising mathematics as a tool for social change. So if we improve the discipline, we are gaining improved tools for social change.

[00:37:32] David: My particular work in mathematics, when I was a pure mathematician, would not have actually had been relevant for any tool for social change within hundreds of years.

And that’s sort of where there is a separation, which we need to recognise, and we need to be able to accept. However, what is important is the fact that I was doing that gave me skills, which I brought into my work, working on tools for social change. So that can be through individuals who sort of share across those and who go from one to the other. So the discipline can contribute in many ways.

[00:38:09] Santiago: I meant improvement in the discipline in terms of the skills that one can gain through studying the discipline, not necessarily in how the discipline can be applied directly.

[00:38:22] David: Yes, and I understand that, but I would still maintain this element that to me, moving the discipline forward, if you want to have mathematics or the mathematical sciences as a tool for social change, you don’t need to advance the discipline very often.

Actually advancing the discipline is not what’s needed, but we believe it is important.

[00:38:45] Santiago: Okay, we’re almost out of time. I like how Lily often asks you towards the end of the episode for any final thoughts.

[00:38:54] David: I’d like to say thank you because as I say, the vision and the mission in their current form, these really speak to me as I think you’ve been able to tell from this interaction. And this is something where the opportunity to talk about these I’ve not had in years. Nobody asks us about our vision and mission. Nobody ever has asked me to talk about the vision and mission. So thank you. I’ve enjoyed this. I hope it’s been interesting and enlightening maybe about what we think and why, where we’ve come from to this. You know, you’ve been involved for a long time, but I don’t remember us ever discussing the mission vision. Did you?

[00:39:33] Santiago: One discussion that I can remember, but it was very brief and I didn’t understand it well enough, so I said, I’ll have to look into this.

[00:39:44] David: You’re employee number one! And I can say that discussion is more than I remember having with pretty much any other employee. But this is really important. So thank you for this. I’ve really enjoyed this episode. I appreciate it. I don’t think I’ve got anything else.

[00:40:01] Santiago: Good. Thank you.