By Julia Day, STEPS Centre communications manager

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates was asked by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to investigate finance for development and to report back to the G20 in Cannes this week. The key message of Gates’ Innovation with Impact report, in a nutshell, appears to be: A levy on share and bond trading would help rich nations meet their aid pledges to the poor to the tune of $48bn (£30bn) a year.

With that kind of potential impact, what’s not to love? The exploration of new ways to meet old finanical aid targets in this increasingly unstable economic climate are welcome, and the so-called Robin Hood Tax (sometimes called Tobin tax) is gaining support.

Gates told the G20 leaders that rather than being wholly used to shore up faltering First World economies, it was “critical” that a fraction of any agreed Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) should go towards helping the developing world. An FTT is gaining support – this week the Archbishop of Canterbury threw his weight behind the idea.
However, to make an FTT or other financial measure work, and work effectively, there are a whole host of non-financial issues to take in to account. The funding of science, technology and innovation – whether from public, private or philanthropic sources – needs to be geared much more strongly to the challenges of poverty alleviation, social justice and environmental sustainability.

The most blatently obvious of these issues being the need to include the poorest countries in discussion from the outset. The needs and demands of poorer and marginalised women and men as potential users of technologies, as well as the outcomes of innovation, must be addressed in funding allocations.

And becasue the potential recipients of the Robin Hood tax each have different institutional architectures for the setting of innovation priorities at national and international levels, an adaptable plan is needed. It has been said many times before, but it is always worth repeating: one-size-fits -all solutions just do not work.

Any mechanism put in place would need to enable diverse interests and new voices to be involved in inclusive debate, including those of poorer and marginalised people. In some countries and settings this will involve building on existing institutional arrangements; in others it will require establishing new fora.

But if we are to support innovation for development in the poorest countries, we must build on local innovation capabilities and include the end-users in the decision-making process. The STEPS Centre’s Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto contains many more action points on delivering an equitable future for all.

One comment:

  1. Gates’ ideas around ‘triangular partnerships’ (which roughly translate to earlier ideas of South-South collaboration but with additional technological and presumably financial inputs from ‘traditional donors’) are a good idea. International co-ordination, however, would be key to making this effective. The manifesto proposes a body “that could facilitate open, transparent political debate about major investments with global trans-boundary implications, North-South technology transfers, and public and philanthropic international aid geared to science, technology and innovation”. As well as G20 governments and the Gates Foundation (all important players), it would be good to see a more networked approach to such an institution, involving civil society and representatives from the poorest countries.

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