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As First-Ever Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology Concludes, Speakers Focus upon Refinements, Adjustability of Format
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7 Jun 2016 - Future science, technology and innovation forums should work cumulatively, learning and advancing on the achievements of previous sessions, the President of the Economic and Social Council said today, as the first annual multi-stakeholder forum concluded.

“From now to 2030, the forum will be a place where all stakeholders have a chance to reflect on how technology is contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Oh Joon (Republic of Korea), describing the event as an inspiring experience. However, greater efforts must be made to strengthen existing capacity and literacy in every country and create innovative knowledge societies.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, flexible societal action plans and technology road maps must be created, he continued, emphasizing that they could enable all interested stakeholders to work towards common goals and benefit from scientific analysis.

Macharia Kamau, Co-Chair of the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, acknowledged the amount of information shared in the past two days. Noting that everyone in the room was working for a common cause, he said that science had a crucial role to play in innovation. The Forum’s configuration might change in 2017, he said, calling upon all to look for opportunities. He expressed hope that a high level political forum would take place, with clear deliverables.

Echoing that sentiment, Vaughan Turekian, Co-Chair, said the forum had been able to address the question on how to mobilize science, technology and innovation to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Creating an enabling environment for their integration was critical in moving forward. The Forum’s structure was adjustable, he said, noting that the international community could decide on the next session’s format.

In a morning panel discussion, titled “Creating shared value: How do we make it work?” three experts discussed the opportunities for networking and matchmaking, encouraging and supporting innovative solutions for sustainable development challenges. They also explored best practices in identifying scientific knowledge, technologies and innovations, and effectively scaling them up for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Romain Murenzi, 10-Member Group for the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, moderating the discussion, stressed the importance of undertaking innovative approaches and leveraging technology for the public. Successful networking and matchmaking created a suitable environment for building scientific capacity. Quality of science, transparency, openness and respect for intellectual rights were other important values for successful outcomes. He then asked the panel members about their successful experiences and capacity-building activities through networking.

Alexis Bonnell, Global Innovation Exchange, said duplications and lack of business intelligence were the factors that hindered joint and integrated working. “So many solutions come from the countries we work in,” she said, stressing that simply providing grants was not enough and partnership was pivotal for success. To move forward, it was essential to create an “agnostic innovation place” where all stakeholders could share information about their experiences and best practices. At the moment, almost 5,000 innovations were in play, she said, noting that Kenya was a power house compared to India.

Lynn St. Amour, President and the Chief Executive Officer of Internet Matters, spoke in her capacity as the Chair of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group of the Internet Governance Forum, which discussed public policy issues related to Internet governance and facilitated the exchange of information and best practices in order to make the Internet more affordable and accessible in the developing world. Convened by the Secretary-General, it was a multi-stakeholder entity, administratively support by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Through dialogue, it sought to find solutions to complex and nuanced problems, she said, stressing the need to build bridges with a growing number of national and regional Internet governance initiatives. Currently, there were more than 60 national and regional initiatives, which were useful for localizing issues. She invited everyone to participate, in person or online, in the next session of the Internet Governance Forum, taking place on 6-9 December 2016 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Tolullah Oni, a Next Einstein Fellow, emphasizing the need for new partnerships, said science, technology and innovation needed to support genius and excellence. Thought needed to be given to supporting mechanisms that allowed for the leapfrogging of ideas. Recalling her participation in a recent meeting of the World Health Assembly, she said she saw a need for those involved in science, technology and innovation to reach out and “occupy each other’s spaces”. Doing so could foster the cross-pollination of ideas needed to address the Sustainable Development Goals. There also needed to be innovative interactions between scientists and policymakers, she said, adding that current academic lines failed to reflect today’s intellectual life. The Forum needed to address not only policy coherence, but also academic coherence.

The Forum then held a ministerial dialogue on the topic “Towards a road map of effective STI [science, technology and innovation] policy frameworks”, identifying key elements that countries and international organizations might take into account in formulating action plans and road maps for science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals. Moderated by Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, it featured Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology of Kenya; Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President of the United States; and Ligia Amada Melo de Cardona, Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology of the Dominican Republic.

Mr. Wu underscored the need for Governments to put into place effective enabling frameworks and road maps for science, technology and innovation initiatives. The importance of such road maps had been recognized by policymakers, scientists and practitioners alike, he said, noting how science, technology and innovation was not only about machines and equipment, but also education, skills training, capacity-building and public policy necessary to foster innovation. Road maps could help countries creating an enabling environment for science, technology and innovation to flourish and support national development goals. They could catalyse innovation in a way that was coherent with a country’s productive capacity and comparative advantages. Formulating road maps required a strategic approach, and in that regard science and technology ministers were at the front line. The session would hear from three such ministers, from three different regions, on how they were dealing with such issues.

Mr. Mucheru, calling science, technology and innovation very important for Kenya, stressed the need to include all stakeholders. He described how the Kenya Vision 2030 initiative set out a blueprint for the country to reach middle-income status, and how a new Constitution entrenched the role of science, technology and innovation in national development. Citing such initiatives as the Kenya Research Fund, he described how processes and frameworks had been reviewed in order to take full advantage of opportunities and to ensure that they were all-inclusive while promoting the sharing of knowledge and the development of infrastructure. He went on to detail how Kenya was aligning science, technology and innovation with the Sustainable Development Goals and told how, in response to a lack of technical skills, the Government had launched a digital talent programme that offered internships to university students. Noting that African countries were, on their own, too small for “big players,” he said that by aggregating demand, voice and data services could become more affordable.

Ms. Smith said her country had a long history of funding science and technology projects and engaging in public-private partnerships. It was a positive development that in September 2015, innovators from all around the world had presented projects at the United Nations in areas ranging from teaching law in prisons to drones, and solar lighting to 3D printing. Science culture was improving in the United States, she said, noting that students elected Chief Science Officers in schools. Among other things, the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit would take place at Stanford University in June 2016. Each of the world’s six regions would be represented by 100 entrepreneurs and would be joined by 100 more from the United States.

Ms. Cardona said making progress was possible through investment in human resources, scientific research and dissemination of related information. For its part, the Dominican Republic had undertaken various activities and projects, including an international scholarship programme, partnerships with the private sector and improved school curricula. As a great concern for her country, the Ministry had trained teachers in the areas of science, technology and innovation. Further, it was financing scientific research carried out by Dominican citizens. Among other things, the Ministry organized an annual seminar where researches in areas of poverty, health, and food production were presented.

The focus of the first panel in the afternoon was the experience of youth in using science, technology and innovation for sustainable development. Panellists discussed how young people were using new approaches and perspectives to develop solutions to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

Elenita Daño, Asia Director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), participating as moderator, asked the panellists about their innovation journey from idea to reality, challenges faced, innovations from a scientific perspective and policy implications.

Hannah Herbst, 2015 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge winner, said she had designed a small turbine, which aimed to provide a stable power source and fresh water to developing countries around the globe. Her pen pal in Ethiopia had no access to lights or a steady flow of drinking water. Recognizing that her situation was not unique, she had spent four months researching an ocean energy probe. Prior to that, she had participated in an engineering camp during the summer before seventh grade. At the camp, she had learned programming and robotics, and had discovered her passion for science and engineering.

David Moinina Sengeh, co-founder of Global Minimum Inc. and 2014 TED fellow, discussed creating innovation labs in Sierra Leone and Kenya where young people could tinker and create by using advanced technology. Adults needed to help youth access their creativity and thus make an impact on the world, he said. There was no reason why young people in Freetown who understood the challenges they faced were not given to tools to think about the solution. By way of example, he described how a student in Sierra Leone developed a way to use GSM mobile telephone “flash calls” to address the problem of solar refrigerators which broke down with stocks of temperature-sensitive vaccine inside. Such kids had the potential to develop technology that saved lives, saved money and created jobs. Through such programmes and Innovate Sierra Leone and Innovate Kenya, there was an opportunity for youth.

Gusti Ayu Fransiska Dewi, co-founder of the Asia Pacific Youth Network on Climate Change and Field Coordinator, Climate for Rainforest Alliance, described mobilizing young people in Indonesia who were interested in solving problems, but who often had no employment, had not finished high school and struggled to do something positive. Her group focused on climate change and what young people could do to address it. In coastal areas, for instance, it trained youth to collect data, such as sea levels, and to analyse institutional data. In that way, they came to understand the scientific process. One outcome had been the preparation of a recommendation paper to the Government, which empowered participants by making them part of the policy process. Her group emphasized what could be done at the local level, using local knowledge.

The fourth and last session, titled “The way forward: Adding value through the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum”, took stock of the main areas for action highlighted during the Forum. It also explored how the Forum might develop in the coming years.

Fonseca Filho, Vice-Chair of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development, said it was imperative for the Commission and the Forum to be linked through appropriate institutional arrangements. They should reflect on the timing of their meetings so that they could exchange inputs, he said, adding that potential duplication and overlap should be minimized. Going forward, the Commission had decided that the priority themes for its next cycle would be new innovation approaches to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the role of science, technology and innovation in ensuring food security. Both themes were directly related to the Forum’s work, and therefore the Commission expected to contribute accordingly.

Heide Hackmann, Co-Chair of the United Nations 10-Member Group to support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, reflected on the Group’s future work on the basis of what had been heard in the Forum over the past two days. Recalling what a colleague had said about the disruptive potential of the Sustainable Development Goals, she said it was the role of the Mechanism to challenge and change science, technology and innovation systems, increase their orientation to the Goals and their connection with policy needs and practices, and to contribute to effective and equitable solutions to the many challenges of sustainable development. Such changes called for a deeper transformative shift in the ethos of how science, technology and innovation were practiced and valued, as well as a shift towards collaboration rather than competition across science, technology and innovation communities which, in many ways, remained disconnected from each other. There was growing evidence that such a transformation was under way, as seen by the international discourse about open science and open knowledge. At the same time, pressure to play by business-as-usual rules needed to be confronted, she said, noting how many national science, technology and innovation policies remained focused on the benefits for national competitiveness without taking into account policies for a sustainable and just world.

There was a clear role for the Forum to be a platform for the science, technology and innovation community and stakeholders to create conditions of possibility by fostering international coordination and multi-stakeholder collaboration, she said. Given the urgency of the sustainable development challenges, it was clear that the Forum had to be action oriented and cumulative in its impact. There was common agreement that the Forum could not be an annual two-day discussion, but rather the outcome of an annual programme of results-oriented work that addressed a number of key objectives. The Forum could monitor trends in the deployment of science, technology and innovation, put a spotlight on specific achievements and identify emerging priorities as well as knowledge innovation gaps. Not all of the Goals would get the same amount of attention, so the Forum could identify those that were being neglected and stimulate responses.