Billions spent yet millions live in poverty
Radical change needed in science, technology & innovation

Out-of-date innovation policy is undermining unprecedented opportunities for development aid to improve the environment and combat global poverty, according to a new Manifesto published today (15 June 2010). We live in an era of rapid scientific advance yet poverty is deepening, the environment is in crisis and progress towards the Millennium Development Goals has stalled.

In the report, Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto, researchers at the UK’s STEPS Centre argue a radical and urgent shift in the global innovation agenda is needed to ensure the future success of development initiatives. A shift not only in scientific innovation – or new ways of doing things – but in related ideas, institutions and practices.

At this month’s G8 summit in Canada world leaders’ attempts to kick-start a global economic recovery may mean the maintenance of their commitments to the poor take a back seat. However innovation can offer a vital key to not only economic growth, but to poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability as well. The Manifesto offers a series of practical recommendations to deliver more effective, transparent and accountable policies that help empower those most in need.

“Meeting the interlinked global challenges of poverty reduction, social justice and environmental sustainability is the great moral and political imperative of our age,” said Professor Andy Stirling, co-director of the STEPS Centre.

“Our vision is a world where science and technology work more directly for social justice, poverty alleviation and the environment. We want the benefits of innovation to be widely shared, not captured by narrow, powerful interests. This means reorganising innovation in ways that involve diverse people and groups – going beyond the technical elites to harness the energy and ingenuity of users, workers, consumers, citizens, activists, farmers and small businesses,” said Professor Stirling.

To achieve this vision, the Manifesto makes recommendations across five areas for action: agenda-setting; funding; capacity-building; organizing; and monitoring, evaluation and accountability.

Recommendations include: (Full list in Areas for Action section of the Manifesto).

  • Establish national ‘Strategic Innovation Fora’ that allow diverse stakeholders – including citizens’ groups and social movements representing marginalised interests – to scrutinise investments in science, technology and innovation and report to parliaments.
  • Establish an international ‘Global Innovation Commission’ under a United Nations umbrella to facilitate open, transparent political debate about major technology investments with global or trans-boundary implications, north-south technology transfers and aid geared to science, technology and innovation.
  • Require public and private bodies investing in science, technology and innovation to increase transparent reporting which focuses on poverty alleviation, social justice and environmental sustainability.
  • Increase investment in scientific capacity-building that trains ‘bridging professionals’ who connect research and development activity with business, social entrepreneurs and users.
  • Enhance incentives for private sector investment in innovation geared towards poverty alleviation, social justice and environmental sustainability, such as advance purchase agreements, technology prizes and tax breaks.

Global annual spending on research and development exceeds a trillion dollars, with military as the single largest expenditure. Yet every day more than a billion people go hungry, 4,000 children die from waterborne diseases and a thousand women die in pregnancy and childbirth.

Science, technology and innovation are crucial in combating poverty and environmental catastrophe, but a shift away from private profit and military aims towards more diverse and fairly distributed forms of innovation geared towards greater social justice, is urgently needed.

Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto and a multimedia version of the document are launched on the 40th anniversary of the ‘Sussex Manifesto’, written for the UN by researchers from the STEPS Centre’s home institutions of the Institute of Development Studies and SPRU Science and Technology Policy Research at the UK’s University of Sussex.

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