Liza Noonan: showcasing Australia’s innovation potential

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Liza Noonan is on a mission to foster innovation and research efforts between Australia and ASEAN that bring solutions to a range of emerging and pressing challenges facing Australia.

She’s the ASEAN Director of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) based in Singapore.

Moving to Singapore after stints in the UK and Europe, Liza brought with her 15 years of experience in innovation management and business development to boost collaborations and present Australia’s science and technology ideas on the global stage.

Advance caught up with Liza to talk about the state of Australia’s innovation overseas, and what the future holds for CSIRO in ASEAN.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications & Digital Manager, Advance.

What made you move to Singapore?

After spending most of my 20s based in the UK and working across Europe I had itchy feet! I have a deep interest in innovation ecosystem development and also wanted to build my experience in South-East Asia. Singapore, one of the world’s leading innovation economies in the heart of South-East Asia, was a pretty obvious choice as “home” for a few years.

What was your first impression? What surprised you most?

Green, very family friendly, humid! I was surprised with the diversity of Singapore from its food, cultures and experiences on offer– it packs a lot in for such a small island. 

Can you tell us more about your role as CSIRO ASEAN Director?

It’s about understanding the big regional challenges relevant to Australia – climate change, the health of our oceans, food security, ageing populations, rapid urbanization, job changes brought about by automation. It’s about positioning innovative Australian science, technology & knowledge as a solution provider to these challenges. It’s about fostering collaborations with organisations in Australia and across ASEAN that share a purpose to solve the same challenges. It’s about profiling the fantastic work of CSIRO scientists and our partners.  

We enjoy a really collaborative and constructive relationship with the Australian Government across the region, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs, and Austrade.

What's the most challenging and most exciting part of your job?

The biggest challenge is definitely prioritsing all the opportunity and systematically sharing this back with the team in Australia. This challenge is closely followed by being comfortable talking additive manufacturing one day and alternative proteins the next. Fortunately, CSIRO scientists are very patient and approachable colleagues!

The most exciting part of my role is definitely seeing first-hand how Australian science and innovation is making an impact in the world and connecting with so many wonderful people who share CSIRO’s purpose of solving the greatest challenges using innovative science and technology.

What are the biggest regional challenges CSIRO ASEAN is working on?

Supporting regional food security with sustainable, nutritious and safe food supply; tackling decarbonisation with economically viable renewable energy resources; environmental monitoring & modelling to develop climate resilience strategies - all alongside our partners.

How does CSIRO stimulate scientific innovation in ASEAN?

Increasingly the CSIRO is sharing its Australian experience as an innovation broker with ASEAN countries, particularly in development of mission-directed research and how to build effective innovation ecosystems to translate important outputs from scientific research into economic value.

What things can Australia learn from Singapore to boost science and technology innovation, and vice versa?

Singapore and Australia both share a strong belief that science and technology innovation is vital for economic development and interestingly have similar strategies to catalyze R&D investment – particularly in deep tech like AI, quantum computing and biotech. Australia and Singapore have promising technology and market complementarities in Hydrogen, AgriFood and Health sectors so working through how we work together to get big ideas to bigger impact faster is where are focusing the ideas exchange.  

What drew you to scientific research?

I joined CSIRO in 2015 to set up and develop the ON Accelerator program – Australia’s first science and technology accelerator. For many teams the ON experience led them to form a new venture to take their science to market. I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with these companies as they scale their businesses globally and connecting them to CSIRO networks across South East Asia.

How does your marketing background benefit your role leading research collaborations between CSIRO and ASEAN?

Marketing orientates you towards the needs of your target market and using that input to develop propositions for meaningful value exchange. My marketing experience also instilled in me the power of story-telling and the importance of creative ways to cut through the noise to get attention and support – particularly for a productive collaboration or important innovation.

What's the biggest lesson you've learnt from living overseas?

Don’t wait for people to find you. Use professional and personal networking organisations to make connections. Here in Singapore - and across the region - the Australian Chamber of Commerce is a fantastic organisation to make in person connections with other people working in Australian businesses or with interests in connecting to Australia.

On a personal level time goes fast so make a list of must do experiences - you’ll never get through it as you will keep discovering new things; but at least you’re driven to make the most of every weekend!

Your go-to places for great (Australian) coffee?

House of Anli in Tanglin Mall or Baker & Cook in Serangoon Gardens.

What do you miss most about Australia?

Distinctive seasons & escaping to the “bush” for the weekend.  I grew up in Parkes in country NSW so I really miss big open spaces. Definitely family and friends but luckily Singapore is a short flight away which means we can get home relatively frequently and always have lots of visitors. It’s a great place for a holiday!