“This forum comes at a time when we need to disrupt the status quo in terms of how we do science and technology for development,” Dr. Gillian Marcelle, Trinidad & Tobago. “When you think about the industrial revolution, that is the biggest change we probably ever had. The SDGs could be the next revolution — they could constitute a new social contract for humanity to take a different road,” Prof. Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Serbia.
These words — on the need for change and the SDGs’ revolutionary drive — summed up the First Annual Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), held at UN HQ, New York, 6-7 June 2016. In a specially convened side event, UNU-MERIT and partners focused on three sectors that are key to development: i) food and cereals that feed the world, ii) medicines, and iii) water & sanitation within diverse national and regional systems.
Launching the event, Prof. Shyama Ramani spelled out the need for a holistic ‘systems’ approach if we are to stand any chance of achieving the SDGs. Also representing UNU-MERIT, Dr. Eduardo Urias focused on access to medicines, and how STI can improve the acceptability, affordability and availability of drugs for pandemics like HIV/AIDS and Dengue Fever. Our partners then focused on upgrading technology to improve sanitation; the role of biotech in combating hunger; and how SMEs can enable inclusive growth (all slides below).
UNU views & takeaways
Prof. Shyama V. Ramani, Moderator: I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel very satisfied because the ideas that we are promoting at UNU-MERIT – about how to view the world for policy design – are right on target. Practically every speaker touched on the need for cooperation and coordination between diverse actors in the ‘complex’ innovation ‘system’ for SDG attainment.
On the other hand, my glass was only half-full, because everyone was talking about this system from their own perspective. Sadly, a collective vision on the ‘rules of the game’ is still missing from these dialogues.
Finally, I was downright disappointed that the legitimacy of science, technology and innovation were mostly discussed in terms of superior performance, economic growth and livelihoods generation in the short run without integrating the long term consequences, say on ecology, or on the decreasing role of the public sector vis-à-vis the private sector.
Dr. Eduardo Urias, Speaker: It is undeniable that STI can play a major role in the achievement of the SDGs. The STI Forum provided many insightful perspectives on this issue from a rage of stakeholders: from business entrepreneurs to policymakers, members of civil society, among others. However, I was frustrated by the lack of deep discussion on how to integrate these distinct – and often conflicting – perspectives.
We cannot take for granted that potential STI-based solutions for current societal challenges will reach those who need them the most. There are now urgent calls to adopt a truly systemic approach that includes not only all relevant stakeholders, but also institutional arrangements and governance mechanisms. This systems approach – like the one adopted in our project ‘MNEmerge‘ – will be key to the uptake and diffusion of innovations for the SDGs.
Howard Hudson, Communications: I was surprised to find so many familiar faces in the audience, from Uruguay’s Dr. Gabriela Dutrenit, to Trinidad & Tobago‘s Dr. Gillian Marcelle, to the Dominican Republic’s Dr. Ligia Melo de Cardona — three influential women from our ‘DEIP‘ innovation series.
My role at the event was to help our leading lady, Shyama Ramani, with media and UN liaison. But I also found extra outlets: presenting our ‘UNU Jargon Buster’ at the side event and then also to the UN Communications Group (UNCG). Why? Because it dovetails perfectly, as a new technological platform for inter-agency coordination and even public outreach for the SDGs.
The app helps us to speak the same language — or at least to understand each other better. It can serve as a bridge between siloed specialists, between various UN bodies working on different SDGs, and between the UN as a whole and the billions of people that it serves. To echo Shyama’s words above, the aim is to build a system that’s more than the sum of its parts, by making our work more concrete and coordinated and less abstract and elitist.
Session topics & bios
- Introduction: STI systems and SDG goals – Why recognition of complexity within a systemic view matters – Prof. Shyama V. Ramani, UNU-MERIT
- The meeting of STI systems, catching up in terms of industrial capabilities in pharmaceuticals and access to medicines – Dr. Eduardo Urias, UNU-MERIT
- The role of STI intermediaries and STI intensive SMEs as vehicles of economic growth, inclusive development and global partnership – Anilkumar Dave, Independent Consultant/Advisor – Head of ‘Research, Tech. Transfer and International Projects’, T2i – Member of the Board, INSME
- The reconfiguration of existing technologies in innovative multi-stakeholder consortiums and delivery platforms to attain water and sanitation goals – Valentin Post, Senior Finance and Sanitation Advisor in WASTE, a Dutch non-governmental research and programme management organisation focusing on environmental security
- The role of biotechnology and genetically modified plant varieties to combat hunger – Carl Pray, Distinguished Professor with the Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, the School for Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers, USA