BRIDGING THE TECHNOLOGICAL DIVIDE THROUGH ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGIES
The question of promoting equitable global economic development has always been seen in conjunction with promoting access to the knowledge base in those countries at the technological frontier. But bridging the technological divide has been an uphill, and for many countries a frustrating, endeavour. However, the experiences gathered over the past few decades, both within countries and at the international level, are valuable in charting a future course. Of these, some of the most essential ones are summarized here. Learning opportunities for innovation arise regularly from a variety of sources, such as from investments in new machinery and equipment, technology suppliers, mobility of labour, interactions with other knowledge agents, trade and investment.
External opportunities, such as contract manufacturing for export and supplying to global value chains, are additional sources of learning. However, because learning does not occur automatically or without costs, it requires appropriate incentives, policies and institutions. Institutional frameworks that enable the creation of dynamic capabilities are best viewed in terms of what are now called national innovation systems, and often also, sectoral innovation systems. National innovation systems can be understood to mean the underlying network of all actors, economic and non-economic, interactions among who is critical to promote learning and knowledge accumulation. Trade rules, intellectual property rights and investment are means to achieve overall development, including through technological change. There is a need to ensure that they are coherent with overall technological development objectives of countries.
There is also a need for efforts to ensure that existing agreements maximize policy space and, where appropriate, expand it in sectoral areas of interest to developing countries to ensure inclusive, sustainable development. A range of international collaborative ventures and alliances can help address the creation and dissemination of technologies in sectors of public importance, especially health and agriculture. STI partnerships can play a critical role. As the United Nations Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation noted, innovation and technology are needed to transform countries from reliance on the exploitation of natural resources to technological innovation as the basis for development.
However, some recent empirical research conducted by the World Bank has sought to explain the relative scarcity of STI partnerships. The research concludes that efforts to promote partnerships have been ad hoc and partnerships have been limited in their capacity to promote broad, systemic improvement. Such partnerships have also not always been sustainable in generating a legacy since partnership programs often operate in isolation from related donor activities taking place simultaneously in the countries. Finally, partnerships are not always linked to the priority needs of developing countries. These weaknesses of partnership programs need to be addressed if they are to deliver effective results and build capacity.
BRIDGING THE TECHNOLOGICAL DIVIDE BY PROMOTING INCLUSIVE INNOVATION
Promoting inclusive innovation within countries
Governments will find it difficult to raise living standards in a sustained manner, feed their growing populations, keep their children healthy, and protect their environment, if they cannot find better, cheaper and smarter ways of producing goods and bringing them to market. The future holds other challenges where new technologies will be key, particularly where climate change is involved. In both traditional and frontier markets, competition between innovators will be critical to ensure the development of socially useful products and processes at affordable prices. However, for many developing countries, persistent obstacles will need to addressed through a global partnership for development. The first of these is financing acquisition and innovation. In a large number of developing countries, shallow financial markets often thwart their responses to developmental needs. It remains imperative that the challenge of mobilizing such financial resources for technological development form a significant part of the developmental agenda.
A second obstacle is incentives. Where there is a strong market pull, commercial drivers encourage a diversity of approach. However, in addressing some of the key development challenges, market incentives may not be sufficiently strong to drive the necessary innovation. Where markets are not strong, additional approaches are needed to bridge the gap. We see this clearly in the lack of development of new treatments for neglected tropical diseases. But a similar situation may occur with any technology needed to address the needs of poor populations. In a world where the primary incentives for innovation are market-based, the inability-to-pay often translates into an inability-to-access. There is a need for a proactive policy agenda that focuses innovation on the needs of poor populations and makes the products of that innovation more readily available to those who need it. A third obstacle is information. Data covering the three pillars of sustainable development needs to be collected, harmonized, managed and integrated in a more coherent way to support better policy-making and decision-making. The issue of access to information has been addressed in The Future We Want4 and the public-right-to-know is fundamental in engaging all relevant stakeholders in sustainable development. The technology exists for collecting economic, environmental and social data and making it accessible for all via the web but there is a challenge to change attitudes and cultures within those ministries and agencies responsible for data collection so that the sharing and exchange of information across the three pillars can result in synergies and bring increased benefits for a wide spectrum of users from policy-makers to the business community to citizens. Mobile learning and the use of mobile devices for communicating data and information for sustainable development has enormous potential. One challenge is to provide content in a format suitable for quick and easy comprehension by the user.
Partnerships are critical to overcoming these market failures. In the field of health a range of Product Development Partnerships (PDP), several involving the UN system and its agencies, have been formed to promote the development and distribution of treatments, therapies and vaccines for diseases which otherwise would have been “neglected”. While the PDP model has had some success in the health field, in other sectors, other models have been tested including by national governments in several countries such as India, China, Brazil and Chile, among others. Alternatively, institution led models such as the Global Research Alliance which addresses global development challenges through inclusive innovation generated within its global and culturally diverse network has also started to deliver results. The World Bank has suggested that such initiatives could be complemented by an Inclusive Innovation Fund (IIF) to support innovators in developing their ideas to the point where they can raise private finance by proof of concept or through prototyping and marketing development. Such Funds are being operated in developing countries at national level, but could be extended regionally or internationally. Given the importance of absorptive capacity in the diffusion and uptake of new technologies in developing and least developed countries, the Climate Innovation Centres piloted by Infodev may prove important in the diffusion of climate smart technologies. In considering the STI framework the global partnership for development should consider developing such centres with a broader remit to complement the Inclusive Innovation Fund.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Information and Communication Technologies and Access to Knowledge
The rapid pace of innovation in ICTs has launched a digital revolution, generating new ways to create and share knowledge, to acquire and disseminate information, and to communicate. This information society now counts almost 6.8 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions and 2.7 billion Internet users worldwide. However, those figures are hiding very important disparities between developed and developing countries, and within those countries between the different socioeconomic groups composing their population. In 1998, the ITU advised the organization of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), in order to build a concerted plan of action to develop the information society at the global level.
The WSIS was organized in two phases, the first one in 2003 in Geneva and the second one in Tunis in 2005, and the annual WSIS Forum now provides a follow-up on the outcomes of those conferences. The Forum is also an occasion for the ITU to capture the trends in the WSIS action lines and to assess the evolution of the global information society. In 2012, the organization thus noted an important need for openness and universal access to information on the web and through Open Educational Resources (OER), and “the urgency to provide new and innovative solutions for persons with disabilities to access information and knowledge." In the same tone, UNESCO has been advocating for the building of "knowledge societies," defined as societies setting up “institutions and organizations that enable people and information to develop without limits, and that open opportunities for all kind of knowledge to be mass-produced and mass-utilized throughout the society as a whole."
Information and Communication Technologies and Civil Society
Social development is also strengthened by STI through new opportunities to communicate and to get engaged in social and political debates. ICTs now allow a larger part of the population to participate to discussions at the local, national, regional and global levels, and to make their voice heard. Citizens and civil society organizations (CSOs) have acquired a new form of power, demanding more openness and transparency, more accountability, and thus tend to move towards a new mode of (e-) governance. CSOs have thus been increasingly integrated into the decision-making processes at the global level; the WSIS is an interesting example of multi-stakeholder forum, where Non-Governmental Organizations and CSOs are invited to participate and to present contributions during the summit. As the first UN primary organ where CSOs are benefitting from a consultative status, ECOSOC could interestingly be a crucial forum for discussion on ICTs and the civil society. Furthermore, the digital revolution has generated a strong potential for integration of excluded groups such as women, youth, indigenous people and persons with disabilities. ICTs indeed offer an easy access to information and knowledge, going far from gender hierarchies and “directly to the roots of women’s inequality”, and thus working towards the empowerment of women.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Innovation is recognized as a driver of economic growth and poverty eradication. In this context, innovation can be understood in broad terms, including "technical and non-technical aspects, business model innovation, ecoinnovation, demand and user-driven innovation, innovation in services and design, and public-sector innovation." In the aftermath of the economic and financial crisis, pursuing economic growth at the national, regional and global levels requires strong investments in STI, in a large number of sectors such as education, research, agriculture, labour markets and trade. In the path towards a green economy, innovation in science and technology plays a central role in generating new productive activities and new types of decent jobs, primarily in the energy sector.
Technological Transfers and Public-private Cooperation
Innovation is a fundamental source of inequality between countries, as they cannot all make the necessary financial investments and build national environments favourable to technical innovation. To counter such imbalance, technological transfers allow less advanced countries to benefit from the knowledge and experience of more developed countries. Mechanisms to strengthen South-South and triangular cooperation have thus been developed, such as the International Centre for South-South cooperation in science, Technology and Innovation (ISTIC), located in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). However, other strategies can be implemented, as countries have the potential to leapfrog and develop technologies that are more advanced faster, through investments in R&D and by building partnerships with the private sector. An example of such public-private partnership (PPP) can be found in Europe, where the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) has set up a partnership with the European Commission in order to foster economic growth and employment in the field of bio-based products.
Case Study: Microfinance, Mobile Banking and Inclusive Economic Growth
The use of microcredit and microfinance products has been developed in the past 30 years in order to provide a universal access to financial services through sound and sustainable institutions. The expansion of inclusive finance strategies thus allows excluded and isolated groups to have access to banking services, and plays an important role in reducing poverty. In this context, the use of mobile banking generates innovative solutions to extend financial services to the populations without access to traditional banks. In Kenya, the M-Pesa system, which was introduced by Safaricom in 2007, allow users to transfer money between mobile phones, at very low costs.
M-Pesa can even be used to purchase solar home lighting systems, through a partnership between the operator and the mobile technology company M-Kopa. Musoni, a Kenyan microfinance institution, is also using mobile banking services to deliver loans to its clients, who can then make repayments over their phones. Through those innovative banking services, isolated populations thus have an opportunity to reach and take part to the formal economy of their country.