Professor Pisano: VinFuture Prize “bringing great attention and credit to Vietnam” [Q&A]

The VinFuture Prize, now in its third season, has seen a remarkable surge in nominations, totaling over 1,300, nearly triple the inaugural year. Professor Albert P. Pisano, Co-chair of the Pre-Screening Committee, and an esteemed member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, applauds the prize’s nature, which is the pursuit of science and technology for positive human impact. 

professor pisano: vinfuture prize “bringing great attention and credit to vietnam” [q&a]

Professor Albert P. Pisano, Co-chair of the VinFuture Prize Pre-Screening Committee, and member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering

The uniqueness of the VinFuture Prize

What are your thoughts on the scale of the third prize season? And does this result meet your expectations at all?

I am not surprised that we have so many nominations. The VinFuture Prize is one of the very few big prizes for those who have created things for the benefit of people (with) positive impact. So, candidly, I’m not surprised that the number of applicants exceeded my expectations. I would have been happy to have seen 800 or 900. Because the VinFuture Prize is so well designed, I think it’s only natural that you attract so many applications.

In your opinion, what sort of elements were factors that drew these scientists and research groups to the VinFuture Prize?

First, I will express my respect for all these other prizes mentioned. I mean, the Nobel Prize is a big deal, the Breakthrough Prize is a big deal, the Tang Prize and Japan Prize. And all of those prizes are limited to technical excellence, scientific brilliance, and scientific accomplishment.

It is only the VinFuture Prize, which one, emphasizes a positive impact on humanity, the importance of women participating in the science and technology agenda, and the developing world and its growing impact on how the rest of the world operates.

And I think that the Founders and everyone involved in designing the prize should be congratulated on, one: identifying such a fun fundamental theme, and second: making Vietnam the first country that recognizes all of those themes together. This is great for the world. It’s also great for Vietnam. And I think that these groups see Vietnam differently because of the way this prize has stated its goals.

What are the main areas of nominations focused on?

I would offer that the main areas of focus are technology areas that are likely to improve the quality of life of people. In the biological area, we see a lot of nominations for human health, as well as for raising the effectiveness of agriculture so that everyone has plenty to eat. For the top prize, we are seeing nominations for groups of researchers who have had a truly global and lasting impact.

Having a lot of nominations “is a perfect problem to have”

We are curious to know if the scale of the VinFuture prize and the increase in the number of nominations pose any sort of challenges for the Pre-Screening Committee during the evaluation and selection process.

A successful prize generates a lot of work for the Pre-Screening Committee. We have a lot of applications. And that’s a true statement. But I would offer that it is a perfect problem to have, what better problem to have than too many applications that look great?

The word is out. Many, many more people are nominating, and the nominations are getting better and better, which means the deliberations to choose among them get tougher and tougher.

But as the co-chair of the Pre-Screening Committee, I would say that for any problem I would ask for. That is the exact problem I would ask for, to be so successful, that we actually have hard work to decide among the nominees.

Dr Katalin Karikó and Prof. Drew Weissman, were a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this year. They’re also our inaugural laureates of the VinFuture Grand Prize. How would you evaluate the vision for the Prize Council and the Pre-Screening Committee for recognizing the value and global contribution of this winning nomination?

I would offer three comments. The first thing is the VinFuture Prize’s selection process – not just the Pre-Screening Committee, but the Prize Council – is clearly operating well, if we get such correlations.

The second thing is that it is very clear to the world that the VinFuture Prize is the right kind of prize, because these winners were nominated for this prize first.

I think that the Founders should be very proud of what they have created. They have created a prize that not only acknowledges women and underdeveloped countries and people who are disadvantaged, but also anticipates the awards that some of the other prizes would give.

I see all of these things as additional affirmations that the prize is performing as it was intended and is bringing great attention and credit to Vietnam for being the first to see the value of these contributions.

Recognizing the pioneering better than anybody

Professor, you’ve been with the VinFuture Prize since its very first day of establishment, the very first year, and what distinctions or just any features you see that can help the VinFuture Prize differ from other awards?

I will offer a very important differentiation that when people are nominated for the VinFuture Prize, they truly get evaluated about what they did that benefits humanity. And we have many categories about that, but really, it’s all about having a positive impact.

Because the VinFuture Prize is new, I feel that we don’t make mistakes that perhaps some other prizes make. (Like) you can never apply to us before you do this prize or that prize, or the other prize. So, what that means is that we are free to discover first the brilliant talent, no matter where in the world it comes from, especially if it comes from women, and from countries that are less advantaged than some of the rich Western countries.

There are four core values of the VinFuture Prize – equality, globality, sustainability, and pioneering. As the Co-chair of the Pre-Screening Committee, do you think that the VinFuture Prize has managed to convey all of these core values?

The VinFuture Prize has delivered all four core values, that’s for sure. And because of the Grand Prize and the other prizes, we are really one of the best at equality, because we look at women, and people who work in disadvantaged countries, and give them as good of a chance to win as anybody else.

But if you asked me which one is my favorite, I would have chosen pioneering because I think that there are not enough prizes that recognize people earlier. Doing that not only encourages them to do more but to set them on even more exciting careers. And I really believe the VinFuture Prize has a second special purpose by extension, drawing women and all these other researchers in less advantaged countries that can make a difference. And it’s because the VinFuture Prize recognizes it.

And if you can do that, then you are adding to the number of people who are committing their lives to doing things that will have positive impacts on everybody else. That is a special claim only the VinFuture Prize can make. And I honor the founders for having that vision.


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