Global Development Conference puts spotlight on science, tech, and innovation

27th Mar 2018
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Encompassing a wide range of subjects and discussions by global experts, the two-day 18th Global Development Conference shed light on how application of science, technology, and innovation (STI) across sectors can help in achieving sustainable development goals.

Science, technology, and innovation (STI) are vital for social and economic development. If well integrated into national development strategies and combined with institutional and organisational changes, STI policies have been successful in raising productivity, improving competitiveness, supporting rapid growth, and creating jobs in developing countries. Innovation, in particular, has clear implications for development in sectors such as health, agriculture, and industry.

The international conference on Science, Technology and Innovation for Development seemed to reiterate these facts. The 18th Global Development Conference was jointly organised by the Campbell Collaboration, the Global Development Network, the Institute for Studies in Industrial Development, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), and witnessed over 300 registered participants from 46 countries and 295 additional web viewers over the two days.

Pierre Jacquet, President of the Global Development Network, said: “Make no mistake: harvesting the fruits of science, technology and innovation for development is one of the biggest development challenges of our time.”

Held at the Institute for Studies in Industrial Development, Delhi, the plenary session on Sustainable Development Goals and the Potential of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) highlighted the latest technological advances and innovations affecting global health, agriculture, and labour markets. The discussion also cited existing examples of STI that can accelerate development in a way that is inclusive and sustainable.

Image Courtesy: GDN

During the session, panelists including R Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India; Santosh Mehrotra, Professor of Economics, Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies, JNU; Cecilia Ugaz Estrada, Director, Department of Policy Research and Statistics, UNIDO; and others deliberated on how recent and advanced technologies like AI, robotics, and biotechnology have opened up new possibilities to improve the quality of life for citizens globally and achieve Sustainable Development Goals.

Female literacy vital

While speaking to YourStory, Chidambaram highlighted that female literacy and per capita electricity consumption are vital parameters for improving the quality of life in India.

“The UN defines human development index in terms of three parameters – per capita GDP, life expectancy at birth, and adult literacy. I have been saying that you need only two parameters – per capita electricity consumption, and female literacy. I prefer female literacy to adult literacy because it correlates very strongly and inversely with infant mortality and birth rate. But if India wants to become a developed country, then its per capita electricity consumption has to go down 6-8 times,” he added.

At the two-day conference, many significant and key discussions on global development like Innovation in the Global South, Digital Transformations and Applications to Development , Policy Frameworks for STIs and SDGs, Including the Poor in the Digital Age, STI, Industrialisation and Employment, among others, were conducted.

Image Courtesy: GDN

Another interesting session at the Global Development Conference was Getting to Scale in a Sharing Economy: Lessons from Digital Health Innovators. In this session, members of Centre for Health Market Innovations (CHMI), Results for Development based in Washington leveraged analytical evidence from CHMI’s global database, citing use cases from India, Kenya, the US, and Pakistan.

John Campbell Jr., Programme Officer, and Erin Swearing, Senior Programme Associate from Results for Development, explored accomplished digital health models and highlighted factors that have facilitated the adoption and scaling of digital health innovations in lower and middle-income countries (LMICs).

John and Erin stressed on the use cases of the five health firms using technologies that are strong enablers of digital health innovation. The session stressed that innovative technologies like telemedicine (doctHERS, Pakistan; World Health Partners, India), mHealth Technologies (iKure), cloud-based and open source technologies (MicroClinic Technologies, Kenya), and integrated data collection platforms (Access Mobile International, US) lie at the heart of digitising healthcare services.

The duo highlighted two use cases from India: Kolkata-based mobile healthcare service provider iKure and Delhi-based telemedicine firm World Health Partners. WHP aims to extensively use technology-based solutions like telemedicine to provide healthcare and reproductive health services within underserved communities, particularly in rural areas. iKure, meanwhile, bridges the gap between urban and rural healthcare services via its in-house software, WHIMS (Wireless Health Incident Monitoring System), which enables treating patients in a remote setting where access to hospitals and clinics are limited. It is a cloud-based web application that works on low bandwidth and acts as an interface between rural and urban. The monitoring device enabled with video-conferencing applications helps to store patient’s medical history and record consultations for future reference.

Innovating for sustainable healthcare

Partha Pratim Das Mohapatra, Senior Technology Consultant of iKure, who was also a part of the session, provided a sneak peek into the journey of iKure and how the emerging for-profit organisation aims to disrupt healthcare for the rural population.

“At iKure, we are continuously innovating for sustainable care through annuity health card. So far, we have served over 5.5 million people, covered 2,300 villages, trained 330 community health workers, and have 40,000 healthcard beneficiaries,” Partha highlighted.

Other key takeaways

At the 18th Global Development Conference, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) also unveiled the Industrial Development Report 2018 that highlights the importance of demand as a driver of industrial development. The report argues that a critical mass of consumption of manufactures can set in motion a virtuous circle of industrial development, but that this requires specific policy measures to attain socially inclusive or environmentally sustainable industrialisation.

Some key takeaways for attendees from discussions on day one of the conference were: the benefits of technological revolution aren't always immediate, and initial outcomes can include increased inequality; innovation is not necessarily the invention of new things, but known things in new contexts; every country needs to have a plan for research, development and innovation; and altruistic innovation works.

Day two of the conference offered takeaways like the poor don't just need technology, they can also drive it; need for developing the ability of consumers to use technology for their own benefit; and STI can help navigate political difficulties to deliver sustainable development.

The conference is the 18th in a line-up of global development conferences on the most pressing themes on the development agenda, which has been organised in various cities across the world since GDN’s inception in 1999. The Global Development Network aims at promoting the use of social science research in developing countries to form development policies, improving development outcomes and individual lives.

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