Enhancing capacities for transformation: Building partnerships to harness science, technology and innovation for intergenerational equity

Enhancing capacities for transformation: Building partnerships to harness science, technology and innovation for intergenerational equity

Ahead of the 2023 Partnership Form of the Economic and Social Council, let's talk about building effective partnerships for the SDGs!

By Ellen Dixon, Allyson Parco, and Brighton Kaoma

Partnership for the implementation and realisation of sustainable development is not simply an attractive concept. It is not simply an idea underpinning the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement. Partnership is reified as a goal in-and-of itself, demonstrated in SDG 17 as the fulcrum for state-to-state, state-to-society, and public-private partnerships for tax justice, provision from ODI/GNI donor countries, humanitarian aid, debt relief, investment, multilateral trading systems, macroeconomic policy consistency and coordination, and effective leadership. Partnership is vital to society’s collective pursuit to foster a healthy relationship between humans and humans, and humans and nature. 

This is evidenced in the upcoming 2023 Partnership Forum of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), to be held on the 31st of January. The Forum will be held at United Nations (UN) Headquarters on the theme “Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”. It focuses on bringing together representatives from UN Member States and stakeholders from civil society, the private sector, scientists, women, local governments, and young people, to discuss innovative actions and partnerships that can support achieving the SDGs.

Partnerships can be focused on economic relations, but they importantly encompass science, technology and innovation (STI) capacity-building through knowledge sharing and enabling technologies. The deployment of STI spans economic and social issues as diverse as alternative solutions to food productions, infrastructure, health, energy, manufacturing, and environmental issues. For instance, agricultural practices have adopted best practices from Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to collect data and identify information regarding farmland, irrigation systems, climate risks, and optimal harvest times to increase food production and prevent the loss of crops. STI has also advanced Earth observation and satellite forecasting to allow for trend projections of temperature, climate, and weather to inform and improve processes for vulnerable communities. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic for instance, STI underpinned the discovery and distribution of vaccines and essential medicines especially to those who needed them most. When the world school systems shut its doors to in-person learning, digital technology solutions opened doors to continuous learning and knowledge exchange for students.

This type of initiative is not surprising because science is the original diplomat. It was Louis Pasteur, French chemist and microbiologist, who stated that: “Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to all humanity, and is the torch that illuminates the world.” Scientists are recognised as having huge international mobility due to an accredited passion for their work, which causes them to interact with research institutes, private corporations, political and influential figures, and civil society organisations. Mathematics is the universal language for young and old, North and South, expressing precision without ambiguity. Technological firms are questioned as being the “new digital states” inhabited by “digital citizens”, stretching across borders without the complexities of state bureaucracies. This type of partnership is essential, especially in times of significant crisis, such as environmental change or as recently evidenced during the pandemic.

But often, partnership is not fully actualised. Science and technology funding has weaponised nations, furthered corporate greed, and witnessed the rise of falsified knowledge and misinformation. Science and innovation is argued to be continuously shut out of policy decision-making, sometimes due to corruption, and sometimes due to a poor translation between scientific concept and political risk. Disparities in STI are still evident between the North and the Global South, from lesser recognition and funding of Southern journals or research institutes to a lack of hardware and technology to be able to engage in innovation. There is also an urgent need to close inequalities for young people, evidenced by inconsistent funding for STI researchers, less global representation of young women and girls in STEM and ICT subjects, and the exclusion of young people in state partnerships for science policy.

Globally, there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10-24. This equates to 1.8 billion essential communicators, leaders, and innovators for partnership and policymaking processes. Governments and decision makers must value young people as a key component to a thriving economy and stable society, with the intention to invest in STEM education as a means to promote personal empowerment, meet modern labor market needs, increase employment opportunities, and support the ongoing development of digital skills. A solutions focused “digital bridge”, is the first step to making an inclusive digital economy that is accessible and relevant to girls and young women, individuals in rural areas, marginalized populations, and learners who are new to STI.

Beyond STI, formal partnerships to achieve the SDGs may look like engagement with the UN Office for Partnerships, Partnership Platform, 2030 Connect, United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) and forthcoming activities occuring at the ECOSOC Forum. Though it is important to note that partnerships and impactful cross-sector collaboration happen at every level. Knowledge sharing and the codesign of effective policy, STI deployment, and equitable solutions require substantial efforts from policymakers, education institutions, youth, leaders in business, nongovernmental organization, and developers in the technology sector. All policy agendas and regulatory frameworks must consider the reality of current global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and economic disruption. Bridging silos and encouraging multistakeholder governance leverages unique strengths, ranging from research, implementation, advocacy, and communication, to collectively achieve the SDGs and address the opportunities and challenges that STI presents.

With the establishment of the UN Youth Office and the Summit of the Future both on the horizon, partnerships between the world’s over 1.8 billion young people and the UN member states, financial institutions, academia, scientists, and private sector partners is the only path towards unlocking intergenerational equity and achieving Agenda 2030. In light of the upcoming historical events for future generations as set out in the UN Secretary General’s Our Common Agenda Report ”, SDSN Youth and its global network of 4,100 members, including over 870 youth members organizations in over 127 countries, shall over the next coming months embark on global consultations to establish consensus on what the future should look like, and what can be done now to address multilateral solutions for a better future which leaves no young person behind. The perennial lack of multilateral cooperation risks failing the most important test: that of genuinely engaging all youth to eradicate unemployment, eliminate extremism, and reduce climate change. Any failure in placing global youth as a fulcrum to sustainable development could lead to unmitigated economic, political, environmental and social disaster. This makes the value of authentic partnerships even more clear: no single person or institution can tackle global challenges single handedly. As the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”.

About the authors:

Allyson Parco is a researcher at the Brookings Institution. Brighton Kaoma serves as Global Director for Youth at UN SDSN. Ellen Dixon is the Project Lead for the SDG Students Program at SDSN Youth.

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