The following is the full text of a talk by Naledi Pandor, South Africa's Minister of Science and Technology, during the traditional Ministerial Session on Thursday 19 November 2015 at the TWAS General Meeting in Vienna.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collective global agreement to tackle the root causes of poverty. They embrace the need for a global transformation that leaves no one behind and gives every person a fair chance of leading a decent life. And they showcase a commitment to protect future generations by limiting climate change, and managing resources sustainably.
The SDGs will only succeed, however, if they are pursued through a deliberate strategy that is targeted at the most vulnerable and poor communities. Essentially it is communities in developing countries that should be assisted to achieve the SDGs.
Science technology and innovation have a key role to play in ensuring successful implementation of development programmes. The role that should be played begins with basic data collection, formulation of interventions and development of innovative knowledge products that address needs in energy, water, food and education.
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New technologies could be as transformative in energy as the mobile phone has been in telecommunications.
Similarly, new technologies could transform African agriculture. Boost Africa’s green and blue revolutions and Africa will be transformed. Innovation can generate a much-needed improvement to Africa’s food and nutrition security.
The best investment in Africa’s long-term sustainable development is an investment in the continent’s people and their skills. Focused attention to gender disability and class inequality is also vitally necessary.
African countries have made a determined effort to increase research, development and innovation (RDI). The past 15 years have seen interventions in higher education, in science councils, in academies and in universities.
Many countries have begun to budget for science, technology and innovation (STI) and most of them have targeted 1% of GDP as their contribution to research funding. In South Africa we are trying to increase R&D to 1.5% of GDP by 2019.
While there has been a positive shift in RDI, we have not yet begun to generate the levels of success we agreed when we developed our first Africa STI Plan of Action. Last year we adopted our second Africa STI Plan and we are currently developing action plans. The new strategy prioritizes research to drive economic and social development across the continent. It commits signatory countries to six goals, including tackling hunger, disease and unemployment, and will set up structures to pursue them.
African research and innovation programmes are progressing in a number of disciplines. Take the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI). By establishing networks of centres of excellence in health innovation in Africa, ANDI is playing a critical role in helping us to ensure better coordination of and efficiency in our investments harnessing science and technology to fight disease in Africa. These centres focus on drug and vaccine development, diagnostics as well as medical devices and technologies. With targeted interventions across the full innovation value chain, the goal is also to boost Africa’s indigenous pharmaceutical capacity for optimal impact on society.
African countries are increasingly forming African partnerships to address research and innovation. For example South Africa and Uganda are collaborating on projects promoting science and sustainable livelihoods. Various Africa partnerships of the South are designed to increase access to technology and innovation resources. The UK / South Africa Newton Fund is growing African participation in a major human capital development opportunity. Emerging links between the BRICS nations are also illustrating new South-South collaboration and offer the possibility of well-crafted responses to the needs of developing countries.
The astronomy sciences have also given life to a re-invigorated science focus in South Africa and several African countries.
Building effective, mutually beneficial global partnerships is a consistent theme and priority of national strategy and policy documents for science, technology and innovation in South Africa.
The following three examples of successful partnership initiatives, provide a good idea of how mutually beneficial cooperation can be constructed.
First, major research infrastructures should be located in developing countries, to develop, attract and retain talent. An example of this is the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, which has campuses in Cape Town and New Delhi.
Second, regional cooperation in science and technology should be intensified, especially to address policy priorities such as public health, which due to the inter-connectedness between countries, are best addressed at the regional level. The Southern African Biosciences Initiative, a programme of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, which brings together several countries of the Southern African Development Community is a worthy example.
Third, and last, international partnerships should be co-owned and co-determined by all partners. Developing countries today are at the forefront of global scientific discovery, as highlighted for example by the pioneering work undertaken in South Africa in areas such as microbicides to prevent HIV/Aids, as well as drug and vaccine development for malaria and tuberculosis. This is shown by the full participation, including as funding parties and equal partners, by several African countries in the European Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership.
Three challenges face effective partnerships.
First, how do we reconcile “competition” and “collaboration”, especially with regard to innovation and close-to-market technology partnerships where countries are faced with the pressure to maximize their own economic benefits?
Strategic transnational partnerships should be possible, provided they are constructed on an equitable and transparent basis.
Second, how can we achieve global brain circulation, given the fierce competition for scarce science and technology skills?
Countries of course have the responsibility to develop and retain their own talent, but a case could be made for innovative partnership programmes, permitting researchers working abroad to, for example, spend time in their countries of origin.
We have just started country-bilateral research chairs – the first with Switzerland – that are ideally suited to researchers splitting their time between countries.
Students from around the world should be encouraged to study internationally. We intend to step up efforts to attract postgraduate students and postdoctoral scientists to South Africa and to send our students outside South Africa.
International students, postgraduates and researchers bring tremendous benefits to South Africa and they make an enormous contribution to the intellectual vibrancy and diversity of our educational institutions.
Third, how do we deal with the transnational relocation of corporate R&D?
Will this impact on global partnerships – must there be exclusive winners and losers? Undoubtedly no country wants to lose corporate R&D to another country, but new public private partnership models spanning different countries may mean this need not be a zero-sum contest.
Tackling Africa’s interlocking climate and energy problems will require strengthened international cooperation. The SDG summit in September and the global climate talks in December provide a platform for deepening cooperation and making a down-payment on measures with the potential to put Africa on a pathway toward an inclusive low-carbon energy future and the world on a pathway to avoid climate catastrophe.
However, international partnership and strategic relations, and the leverage of ODA [Official Development Assistance], remain essential to permit our research and innovation community access to the requisite research infrastructure.
First of all, the construction and operation of large-scale or mega-science facilities, due to factors of cost and complexity, is difficult for countries to achieve on their own. International cooperation is imperative. Examples of transnational projects, such as the International Experimental Fusion Reactor (ITER), the Large Hadron Collider or the Square Kilometre Array bear testimony to this.
International cooperation is, however, also critical to permit us the more effective utilisation and exploitation of existing facilities. Where countries have small user communities for a specific infrastructure, rather than investing in the development of their own facilities, it would be more effective to promote transnational access to research infrastructures.
I would like to emphasize that mega science facilities, by bringing together scientists and experts from all over the world, play a valuable role in building international friendship, improving transnational communication and understanding, and reinforcing solidarity. They are an essential element in sustainable growth and development globally.