Commission on Science and Technology for Development – 21st Session

14 May 2018 to 18 May 2018
Geneva, Switzerland


Event report/s:
Marco Lotti

The panel discussion on Building digital competencies to benefit from existing and emerging technologies with a special fo

The panel discussion on Building digital competencies to benefit from existing and emerging technologies with a special focus on gender and youth dimensions took place at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) during the 21st session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD). 

The session was opened by Amb. Geraldine Byrne Nason (Chair, Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)). In her video message, Byrne Nason considered that the CSTD and the CSW share areas of common interest regarding the discussion on women’s rights and technology. Moreover, both the conference and the Commission share credit for creating a co-operative and collaborative discussion around the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. She explained that the CSW is a space for addressing gender equality and is based on the Beijing platform of action (i.e. the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995). She also affirmed that technological innovation is a fundamental driver for integration, thus challenges faced by women need to be urgently addressed. ‘With the fast pace of the technological progress, there is an unprecedented urgence to close the gender gap’, she maintained. Byrne Nason concluded by considering that educating women on information and communications technologies (ICT) skills is crucial in achieving the sustainable development goal (SDG) 5 and more broadly, the 2030 agenda.

Ms Shamika N. Sirimanne (Director, Division on Technology and Logistics, Head of the CSTD Secretariat at UNCTAD) introduced the Report of the Secretary General on building digital competencies. She stressed that new technologies bring both opportunities (e.g. improve living standards) as well as challenges. ‘Development gains are not automatic but depend on the readiness of countries to adopt and adapt to such advancements’, she clarified. She then focused on the existing ‘mismatches’ regarding building digital competencies: by 2020 around 80-90% of jobs in the European Union will require ICT skills and by 2030 around 3-14% of the global workforce will need to switch to new occupational categories. Moreover, there is a considerable gender gap in the access to digital technologies: women are underrepresented in ICT specialised occupations, and in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

She concluded by illustrating strategies suggested for building digital competencies such as incorporating digital skills in the educational system, creating an enabling environment by investing in digital infrastructure, and promoting collaboration among different stakeholders.

Ms Miriam Nicado García (Rector University of Informatics Sciences (UCI) of the Ministry of Higher Education, Cuba) explained that since 1959, Cuba has progressed in education and science by creating a network of higher education centres comprising over 50 universities nationally. She stated that the UCI was created in 2002 to train professionals dedicated to informatics sciences. Overall, 40% of the students are women and they have the possibility to include a variety of subjects in their studies such as engineering, mathematics, and bioinformatics.

Ms Helena Dalli (Minister of European Affairs and Equality, Malta) considered that in Malta, women are underrepresented in STEM subjects. The gender gap existing in education is also reflected in the job market as women tend to be paid 30% less than men as ICT specialists, and they are represented with a margin of five to one compared to men in the same sector. Moreover, in Malta, men are twice as likely to become engineers than women and they have a five times greater chance to become software developers. She explained that Malta’s national digital strategy strives ‘to make the most out of the technological advancement’, with special attention to gender issues. This is why the government has taken several family-friendly measures aiming at increasing the presence of women in leadership positions in science and technology.  She concluded the presentation by considering that ‘stereotyping is the most serious impediment to women moving forward in science’. That is why Malta voted in favour of the establishment of an international day of women and girls in science to be held on 11 February.

Ms Sophia Bekele (Founder & CEO of the DotConnectAfrica Group) first considered that ‘we grow because every day we endeavor to know’. She explained that the current state of the Internet and the latest technological developments ‘have revolutionised Africa’. Despite the fact that Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female startups, there are still existing challenges that women entrepreneurs face while launching a start-up, such as lack of finances, product pricing and poor marketing. She explained that new technologies could significantly help small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in, for example, the development of green energy sources. She concluded by explaining that the DotConnectAfrica group aims at fostering the use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and new technologies in Africa through a partnerships and mentorships programme, as well as complementary gender empowerment initiatives such as Miss.Africa.

Stefania Grottola and Cedric Amon

The high-level Roundtable of the 21st Session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) addressed two main topics:

  1. The role of science, technology and innovation in increasing the share of renewable energy by 2030.

  2. Building digital competencies to benefit from existing and emerging technologies, with special focus on gender and youth dimensions.

The session was opened by Ms Isabelle Durant (Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)) and moderated by Mr Andrew Revkin (Strategic Advisor for Environmental and Science Journalism, National Geographic Society). In her opening remarks, Durant spoke about the benefits of technological change and the increasing speed at which technological innovation is spreading. She further identified policies lagging behind technological development as a key issue, especially for developing countries that run the risk of being left out of the 4th industrial revolution. Additionally, she mentioned the increasing concentration of market power with a few companies and spoke about the challenges that the UN and the CSTD will face in finding solutions to these problems, supporting developing countries in embracing technological change while preventing the setbacks related to it.

The opening remarks were followed by a video featuring the voices of the youth regarding new technologies, introduced by Mr Donovan Guttieres (United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth). Guttieres said that technological advancements will only have a positive impact if the benefits are shared equally. There is no single answer to the challenges faced by humanity. He further noted that there is more and more privatisation of knowledge while the risks associated with technological change are a collective burden. Given the task at hand, he urged states to take on an intergenerational approach to face the challenges and opportunities of technological change.

Mr Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford) explained that we are living in the data-age. While data and information technology (IT) might be viewed as a toolbox by some, the data age is actually about a new perspective on reality. According to Mayer-Schönberger, it offers a new look at the world and new insights on how the world functions, and it is a chance to make more informed and thus better decisions. Additionally, technology can help reinforce the market as a social mechanism for coordination.

Mr Danielle R. Wood (Assistant Professor, Space Enabled Research Group, MIT Media Lab) stated that space technology already supports the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Through satellite earth observation, satellite positioning and navigation, satellite communication, human space flight, space technology transfer and the inspiration provided through its research, these technologies are being actively used in the private sector as well as by civil society.

Mr Musa Mhlanga (Principal Researcher and Technical Manager of the Biomedical translational Research Initiative, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa) argued that big data and technology have profound implications for the achievement of the human-centric SDGs. Genome technology and bio technology have implications on almost all the SDGs. He argued that biotechnology is now what the Silicon Valley was in the 1970s. Researchers are working on creating the first purely synthetic organism, while genome editing has profound implications. Today, it is possible to make changes on the genus of every species on earth. Furthermore, there is a huge amount of information that we have access to which will play the greatest role in how we mobilise these technologies. It will involve doing a deep research into what it means to be human and it will challenge the conventional concept of intelligence.

Mhlanga then moved to the implication of such developments for Africa. He predicted that the first expected effects will be in agriculture. Moreover, when it comes to genome editing, he noted that it is today possible to manage epidemics: for instance, it is possible to permanently remove the genes of infected mosquitoes, but it raises ethical questions: are we killing an entire species? Who makes these decisions? It represents a non-linear impact. Coming back on the above-mentioned parallelism, biotechnology is evolving faster than the Silicon Valley in the 1970s, from big data to ethical issues, to the extent of intervention in modifying species. It is part of the 4th industrial revolution.

Mr Ikka Turunen (Special Government Advisor at the Cabinet of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland) stated that policymakers need to have a multistakeholder approach and involve all experts in order to tackle the issues in the most effective and comprehensive way. It is important to have structures for anticipation and funding structures for strategic research purposes. However, this requires international co-operation. He then moved to the question, ‘what kind of skills and competences do citizens need in the future?’ There is a broad consensus on the foundational cognitive and social emotional skills. Shaping the world needs robust skills. The crucial aspect is how to organise the education system. Personalised and customised educational paths are possible within the framework of supporting continuous education learning. Finally, on the issue of democracy, he stressed the importance of research and critical thinking.

Mr Rana Tanveer Hussain (Minister of Science and Technology, Pakistan) argued that the economic development of Pakistan is currently knowledge based. The 4th industrial revolution has created opportunities and challenges. The integration of SDGs in the national development plans has become a framework for development. The minister further recalled the specificities on access to clean water, clean green energy and environmental friendly production.

Amb Miguel Ruiz Cabañas (Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mexico) argued that new technology can improve our lives if properly developed. The 4th Industrial Revolution has affected the labour field and it must be recognised that at the national and international levels, there are no regulation patterns that address this issue. Mexico aims to create awareness about the disruptive role of technology and its ethical implications: public policy must be cantered on best practices. Finally, he stressed the need of sharing information and knowledge, and proposed four main points to achieve sustainable development:

  1. Design methods to favour a better dissemination of knowledge to avoid data manipulation.

  2. Promote technological innovation on all continents.

  3. Support education and the development of skills.

  4. Include the civil society and the private sector as crucial stakeholders.

Mr Ngaka Ngaka (Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Botswana) recalled the government’s efforts to transform the economy by moving from commodity. Research and development in Botswana continue to grow. The country also prioritises technological developments in the field of water management, energy management, and security, among others.

Mr Dumisani C. Ndlangamandla (Minister of Information, Communication and Technology, Swaziland) stressed the role of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) in complementing the achievement of SDGs and underlined the country’s efforts and achievements in technology.

Ms Nkandu Luo (Minister of Higher Education, Zambia) talked about the challenges that the country is facing in order to design the best practices to achieve the SDGs. The country needs to restructure the educational system and its implementation, and it needs a new system to tackle the waste generated. Zambia is pushing for partnerships locally and across the African region and the North. Luo also stressed the negative aspects of some technologies in the 4th industrial revolution.

Ms Mmamoloko T. Kubayi-Ngubane (Minister of Science and Technology, South Africa) highlighted that, in order to achieve the SDGs, it is crucial to eliminate trade and economic barriers. She called upon the World Trade Organization (WTO) to take an active role on this issue.

The representative of Switzerland recalled the national strategy ‘Digital Switzerland’. Moreover, he recognised that while developing countries are making significant progress in the field of digitalisation, a large part of the global population lacks access to Internet and is left behind when it comes to the benefits of digitalisation. Governments need to develop stability in the regulation and make technology neutral (technological neutrality). Finally, he called upon governments to structure policies for their citizens to benefit from digitalisation. He furthermore stressed the role of a multistakeholder approach and the role of policy and education in strengthening the security of data.

Ms Jenny Carrasco Arredondo (Vice Minister of Science and Technology, Bolivia) stressed the importance of implementing a knowledge-based approach for health purposes and food management. While stating that the access to technology is still an issue, she highlighted that the country has undertaken enhancing renewable energy sources such as geothermal, solar, and wind energy.

The representative of Poland argued that the technological revolution affects every individual. He recalled the new regulatory strategy in its main pillars of developing critical infrastructures, promoting competition through optima regulation, working paperless, being eco-friendly, and providing knowledge to society and businesses.

Ms Marisa do Rosário Bragança Sambo (Minister of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Angola) recalled the efforts made by the government to promote economic diversification. In order to tackle the technological asymmetry in the country, they have established a national system for training and methodology for STI; creating laboratories in secondary schools; and training academic consultants to promote gender balance. Policies and strategies on STI should be structured in order to engage young people and women, and to promote sustainable development and societies.

Ms Patricia Appiagyei (Deputy Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ghana) argued that the country is ready to challenge the status quo through technology and STI. The efforts are being enhanced by the review of the national science and innovation policy; by the establishment of the Presidential Advice Council to provide scientific-based advice for policy-making decisions; and the establishment of the Ghana Innovation Centre, a strategic initiative for promoting technology transfer. Ghana is opening the doors to youth to create pathways for sustainable development.

Mr Sarath Amunugama (Minister of Science, Technology and Research, Sri Lanka) expressed the efforts and will of Sri Lanka to enable an environment to promote technological entrepreneurship. It is important that countries develop strategies that tackle the disruptive effects of technology. These technologies can be directly linked to the achievement of the SDGs. He also shared his concerns over the negative implications of technology in the market. Finally, a further concern was raised with regards to the digital divides within and between societies. Effective STI strategies may help societies in facing technological challenges.

The final comments were addressed by the representative of China, who called upon national governments to build national capacities and enable citizens, by supportive scientific and technological development. He was followed by a brief comment from the representative of the USA who stressed the positive and life changing features of technology and recalled US investments in policy research in support of innovation. Their aim is to allow the private sector to have the space to innovate, while also empowering people. He added that the USA supports multistakeholder engagement and promotes the fostering of public trust and the development of technologies. The final comment was addressed by the representative of Nepal who shared concerns and opportunities of STI in line with the previous statements.


Stefania Pia Grottola

This session identified the possible ways in which to prioritise science, technology and innovation (STI) in national development strategies, in order to achieve the sustainable dev

This session identified the possible ways in which to prioritise science, technology and innovation (STI) in national development strategies, in order to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and support the development of sustainable and resilient societies.

Mr Sarath Amunugama (Minister of Science, Technology and Research, Sri Lanka) talked about the developments taking place in Sri Lanka in science and technology which will help to achieve the SDGs. Regarding Goal 6, he said that the country has a relatively high national coverage – with more than 80% of the population having access to clean water and sanitation. However, some remote rural areas still lack quality water and the government is worried about the spread of waterborne diseases. With regards to Goal 7, the minister stressed that Sri Lanka has achieved 98% of electricity coverage and it represents the 39th greenest country in the world. Under Goal 11, Sri Lanka is facing the problem of increased urbanisation, while under Goal 12, he underlined the role of the Strategic Environmental Assessment and its authority. Finally, regarding Goal 15, he recalled the actions taken towards the protection of biodiversity in the country.

Ms Marisa do Rosário Bragança Sambo (Minister of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Angola) expressed the importance of resilience societies meant to represent the ability of a system to manage a crisis with its own sources, for self-developing purposes. New technologies can help build sustainable societies, for example through better response systems to deal with crises caused by climate change and soil connected reasons. She recalled the national development plan meant to implement the risk reduction and environmental protection, and she stressed the crucial role of specific tools for the planning, designing, identification, and characterisation of risk areas all over the country. To this end, satellite maps and geographic data can play a crucial role.

Ms Jenny Carrasco Arredondo (Vice Minister of Science and Technology, Bolivia) recalled the implications of the 4th industrial revolution in terms of its opportunities and the challenges for developing countries. In addressing the role of technology in building resilient and sustainable societies, she proposed the distinction of two levels of analysis: local and global. On the one hand, we see what countries can do domestically to achieve progress overall; however, there are limitations in terms of digital gaps, the lack of access to technology and the lack of education. She then stressed the push for Bolivia to improve its role in the digital environment and highlighted the importance of fostering partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Ms Mmamoloko T. Kubayi-Ngubane (Minister of Science and Technology, South Africa) recalled the development the country has made in terms of technology facilitation mechanisms. On this point, she recalled the strategic partnership with Statistics South Africa in making sure that the information can be reliable and trustworthy. One main crucial point was stressed: the partnership with countries in the region for sharing experiences and knowledge.

Ms Nkandu Luo (Minister of Higher Education, Zambia) talked about the country’s policy on access to computers in all schools, which aims to ensure that children are exposed to technology and science as soon as their education starts. With regards to alternative sources of energy, she stressed the importance of the nuclear science agenda. Nuclear science is indeed important but not limited to agriculture and health (i.e. treatment of cancer). On the topic of climate change, she highlighted the ability of more sensitive technology to identify deforestation and allow quick and effective environmental policies.

Mr Thesele Maseribane (Minister of Communications, Science and Technology for Development, Lesotho) argued in favour of STI and information and communications technologies (ICTs) as a way to support the sustainable development of a country geographically situated 'inside another country'. The subscription to mobile services has increased in the country; however, Internet usage is still low (about 8%) because of the lack of accessibility to ICT infrastructures. Furthermore, he spoke about the implications technology has on the labour market, as well as on issues of security, privacy, and ethics. He further recalled the developments made by Lesotho with regards to renewable energies and finished his speech by stressing the need to ensure that the world remains the best place it can be for humanity to live.

Mr Rana Tanveer Hussain (Minister of Science and Technology, Pakistan) stated that while the word around us is changing, it is our duty to promote science and technology in the landscape of development. A collaborative effort between the public and private sectors should be explored, and there should be a stronger push for sharing knowledge and technology from the North to the South.

The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) has taken initiatives to set up a resilience and climate change unit to implement actions in support of a green economy. Furthermore, their representative recalled their collaboration with UNESCO to enhance the role of science, technology, and innovation in the IsDBG’s interventions and to create synergies between its 10-Year Strategic Framework and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. IsDB is putting efforts into going beyond sole the financing of projects and becoming an impactful knowledge organisation.

The representative from the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) underlined the importance of resilience and disaster risk reduction in order to reduce negative socio-economic impact. Science and research need to become more integrated for a multi-risk approach including a multi-generational perspective. In this regard, capacity building and investments in human capital are key. Furthermore, a better understanding of disaster risks (natural and man-made) is crucial for sustainable development.

The previous statements were followed by two additional speeches. The first one was addressed by a delegate from Cuba, who stressed the role of knowledge and education for the sustainable development of both the people in Cuba and beyond. Finally, the last speech was from the representative of Thailand who stressed the importance of increasing water security, by considering a multistakeholder management, and called upon the countries in the region for a transferred development model.

The 21st session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) will take place on 14–18 May 2018, at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Commission will address two priority themes:

  • the role of science, technology and innovation to increase substantially the share of renewable energy by 2030
  • building digital competencies to benefit from existing and emerging technologies, with special focus on gender and youth dimensions

Furthermore, the meeting will also review the progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Participation is open to ministers and representatives of governments, civil society, the business community, academia and international and regional organisations. For more information, visit the event webpage.


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