By Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS)
This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.
The current COVID-19 crisis has triggered important discussions highlighting the role of science, technology and innovation (STI). It has also revealed a number of gaps and shortcomings in terms of global governance. In this context, it is worth looking more closely at the specific issue of biological threats post-COVID-19, as well as related challenges in terms of governance.
Today, in the race for a coronavirus vaccine, over 300 scientists are working on 120 efforts for vaccine development across globally convened platforms. Fortunately, internationally and at regional and national levels, there is a consensus on the role of science, technology and innovation (STI). Most OECD countries have stepped up international collaboration to face the crisis, through new programmes and by increasing spending on STI. Regarding non-OECD countries, UNCTAD has emphasised the need for more support to international collaboration in this area: “A global pandemic is a textbook example of a critical problem where the sum of isolated efforts by national governments provides much inferior outcomes than international collaboration. The positive externalities of STI investments in such a situation could be huge and decisive in the effort to ensure that the most vulnerable members of the international community are not left behind”. Other international actors like the G7 Ministers for Science and Technology, UNESCO, The World Academy of Sciences, etc. have also repeatedly acknowledged the crucial role of STI in tackling the crisis, calling for increased co-operation.
Barely no one can answer this question, even with some thought. And yet, Africa is the cradle of humanity, and therefore logically, the cradle of science and innovation. So why can’t we name any famous African scientists? The simple answer is that we don’t know much about the history of innovation in Africa. The world’s technologically driven human progress can be divided into two parts: the “Africa” time with major discoveries, including tools, fire, mathematics and steel, and the more recent “industrial” read “western Europe and North America” time with major discoveries such as the steam engine, vaccines, antibiotics, computers and much more. In between the two, the world transitioned from more “informal” homegrown knowledge-based innovation to more “formal” scientific knowledge-based innovation. Within that context, Africa’s research and innovation, which often occurs outside the so-called “formal” innovation framework, completely disappeared from the global map of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). Since then, “playing catch-up” has been the cornerstone of the strategy of every single African nation intending to adopt a knowledge-led economy. But do we really need to catch-up? What does catching up even mean?
Partnerships were central from the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000. Public, private and civil society entities forged ties, leading to some outstanding results. This was notable in health, where path-breaking co-operation across governments, companies and foundations improved millions of lives through medicines and vaccines. Given this track record, why do the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 15 years later require revitalising global partnerships? What was missing the first time, and what should be different now? Continue reading “The SDGs call for a revitalised global partnership: What should we do differently this time?”