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Cambridge, MA – Developing nations should focus on harnessing the power of technological innovation to grow their economies and improve the lives of their people, asserts a newly released report by experts prepared for the United Nations.
The report, titled Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development, was prepared by the Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation of the United Nations Millennium Project commissioned by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. It outlines key areas for urgent national and international policy action to accelerate substantive economic and social progress in developing countries, even within the next five years.
“There is an urgent need for developing countries to pursue those public policies that begin to tap the tremendous benefits promised by science, technology and innovation,” said Calestous Juma, Task Force coordinator and professor of the practice of international development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Now is the time to plant the seeds of change – in education, government and the private sector – that can begin moving developing countries forward.”
The Task Force recommendations aim at implementing the Millennium Development Goals adopted by all governments in 2000. They include:
· Strengthening the ways in which governments use science and technology advice to inform development policy and implementation;
· Putting institutions of higher learning such as universities to the service of community development;
· Designing infrastructure projects as a foundation for technological innovation.
The Science, Technology and Innovation Task Force is comprised of 18 representatives from academia, the public and private sectors, civil society organizations, and UN agencies. The Task Force was coordinated by Juma (who also co-authored the report) and Lee Yee-Cheong, president of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations.
Speaking to the Task Force recommendations, Juma said, “Traditional wisdom continues to emphasize the role of primary education in development. While this foundation is necessary, it is poor substitute for strong commitment to higher education in science, technology and engineering as a source of economic development.”
Addressing the issue of business development, Juma said, “The capacity of the public sector to meet the needs of the poor is being exceeded around the world. The time has come to complement its role with a strong emphasis on business development as the engine of growth. The role of the public sector is to promote entrepreneurship; not to supplant or suppress it.”
Regarding public sector change, Juma stated, “Economic advice will continue to play an important role in guiding policy makers on development matters. But in a knowledge-based economy, leaders will need to turn more and more to science and technology advisors. This is inevitable in a world marked by rapid technological change and science advisors will soon become a necessary part of presidential and executive offices, including the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General.”
The Millennium Development Goals, backed by a political mandate agreed upon by the leaders of all UN member states, have become the international standard of reference for measuring improvements in the human condition in developing countries.
The report reinforces measures already being adopted by governments around the world. Canada has created the office of the National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister; the Irish government has appointed a Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister; the government in Jamaica has devised a formal program aimed at boosting student interest in science and technology; and India has announced plans to set up a scientific advisory council to advise the Prime Minister.
The Science, Technology and Innovation Task Force is one of ten task forces established by the UN Millennium Project. For three years the project has worked to recommend strategies to reach UN Goals of reducing poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women by 2015. The recommendations for accomplishing these goals are contained in a report, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, to be submitted to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Jan. 17, 2005.
Calestous Juma is professor of the practice of international development and director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at the Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is a former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, and served as founding director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi and currently serves on the President's National Economic and Social Council of Kenya. Juma has won several international awards for his work on sustainable development.