The United Nations Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation: An overview of Sessions and Lessons Learned, Part One

The United Nations Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation: An overview of Sessions and Lessons Learned, Part One

Envision a sustainable world achieved through the innovative use of technology. The Second Annual Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is dedicated to realizing the potential of technology in achieving sustainability around the world. As an intern to the International Association for Applied Psychology, I attended the forum with great curiosity and enthusiasm.

The meeting lived up to its name in presenting information that was cutting-edge with regards to the principles, issues and implementation of science, technology and innovation in the context of sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda at the UN. Further, the conference brought together a diverse range of input from experts in multiple fields including government, NGOs, civil society, academia, the scientific community, and the private sector.

The topics were meant to address the intersection between STI and selected Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UN 2030 Agenda, namely, SDG 1—End poverty in all its forms everywhere; SDG 2—End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; SDG3—Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; SDG 5—Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; SDG 9—Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation; SDG 14—Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; and Goal 17—Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

This report consists of two separate parts. Part One – in this report – covers two sessions on 15 May about science, technology, and innovation, one about SDG 3—Health and Well-Being for all, and another about SDG 5—Gender Equality and Empowerment of All Women and Girls. Part Two, in a separate report, covers a side event on May 16, Artificial Intelligence and Technology Tools for Mental Health, Well-being and Resilience, that was moderated and co-organized by my supervisor—Dr. Judy Kuriansky.

I found these sessions informative and insightful, as well as relevant to my life and career on two fronts. First, as a female student who studies biology and attends a liberal women’s college, I am eager to learn the advances and challenges for women in STEM field (science, technology, engineering and mathematics.) Second, I aspire to pursue medical illustration and am very curious about in how technology is changing health visual communications and health in general.

Session on Goal 3 on achieving healthcare for all

The afternoon session on “Key priorities for engaging STI for ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages (Goal 3)” addressed technology and innovation in healthcare and stressed the importance of integrating science, technology and innovation into this sector. Speakers from this session includes Professor Dr. Ali Ghufron Mukti, Director General of Science, Technology and Higher Education at the Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education in Indonesia; Dr. Livio Valenti, Co-Founder, VP of Policy and Strategy at Vaxess Technologies, and Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; and Dr. Sarah Marniesse, Director of Mobilization of Research and Innovation at the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development.

Marniesse emphasized on the need of local research in technology development. She said that medicine users come from a wide range areas and different nations, yet the development of medicine mainly takes place in institutional settings. This leads to the problem that medical researchers and developers often lack full and necessary understanding of the context in which the very technology they are developing will be used. Therefore, they are not adequately able to foresee problems, for example, in the shipping, storage, and delivery of new medicines at the local level in diverse contexts and settings.

To address this disconnection, Marniesse suggested greater coordination between those on the ground and those in research labs, and also on broader scale, among the public, the private sector, government, and the scientific community. She concluded that the innovative use of technology could facilitate bridging communication gaps, so that different sectors can collaborate to improve the delivery and storage of medical products especially in communities where medical infrastructures are limited.

It was exciting to hear from the next speaker, Mr. Valenti, about an innovation in technology that is already addressing those challenges Marniesse described, by providing an innovative method of local medical storage and delivery. Specifically, Vaxess Technology pioneered an application of biomaterials to allow antibiotics and vaccines to be stored without refrigerators and applied onto the skin (as shown in the diagram), instead of needing a syringe or trained profession. This has the added benefit that antibiotics and vaccines become more affordable and easy to store.

However, Valenti pointed out that the development of technology innovation is not enough. He agrees with Marniesse that the practical and large-scale application of technology relies on support from several approaches, namely, the scientific, organizational and social spheres. Innovation is prominent, encouraged, and highly sought out in private sectors. However, technology and innovation is not sufficiently emphasized by governments and health policy agencies, which are more oriented towards status quo and move more slowly to integrate new technologies. Valenti urged government around the world to adapt more entrepreneurship in order to generate comprehensive policies and programs that allow for efficiency and flexibility in adapting new technologies.

Another case of technology innovation in healthcare was presented by Mr. Asher Hasan. He presented the Pakistani start-up “doctHERs” that won the UNICEF First Campaigner Global Goal Awards for improving women’s lives. “doctHERS” uses the internet to establish teleclinics and connects women doctors to patients in areas where healthcare is not available. “doctHERs” not only makes quality healthcare more accessible and affordable, but also allowed greater flexibility in working hours so that female doctors can better balance work and family time.

Gender roles and preconceptions contributed to the unequal status of women and men in the field of medicine in Pakistan. Most graduates from medical schools in Pakistan are women, yet most registered doctors are men. Women are discouraged to work as fulltime doctors once they are married and are pressured to refrain from work to fulfill responsibilities as mothers and housewives. This gender imbalance in the healthcare workplace actually leads to a shortage of doctors in Pakistan. “doctHERs" relieves this healthcare shortage and contributes to the process of empowering women doctors.

Session on Goal 5 on Gender Equality and Empowerment of all Women and Girls

(from left to right) Dalia Francheska Marquez, Women’s Leaders Committee of OAS and Youth United in Action; Ambassador Lana Nuesseibeh, Mission of the UAE to the UN; Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Science, Technology and Research, Sri Lanka; Co-Chair Vaughan Turekian; Secretary; and Moderator Myrna Cunningham

I also attended the session on “Key priorities for engaging STI for achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls (Goal 5)” that addressed gender equality and women’s empowerment. I learned that currently, women account for only 28% of the world’s researchers, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. This small proportion of women doing this work reveals gender imbalance in the field of research. Factors that contribute to this gender imbalance include cultural and societal discriminations, and gender-biased policies in government, funding agencies, higher education institutions, and research centers.

H.E. Ambassador Ms. Lana Nusseibeh, Permanent Representative of the Mission of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the UN, underscored the importance of early education and government -supported curricula in bringing women into the STEM field.

She outlined three major strategies in the UAE to address gender imbalance in the STEM field:

(1) Early STEM education for girls

(2) Resource allocation for girls and women in STEM

(3) Policies for women’s participation in STEM (for example, maternal leave). She recognized that women contribute significantly to the economic development of the UAE and countries around the world, and called on international efforts in the United Nations to close the gender gap in science and technology.

Ms. Dalia Francheska Marquez from "Women's Leaders Committee of OAS Youth United In Action" in Venezuela presented in Spanish. She reported that discrimination in the field of science and technology hinders women innovators from entering and prospering in the field. She emphasized the importance of non-sexist education that teaches children how science and technology can improve living quality and healthcare. She called for ending of financial dependency that limit women’s career development and allotting funds to support women researchers,

Panelist Mr. Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Science, Technology and Research in Sri Lanka, proudly reported that female STEM field graduates surpassed male STEM field graduates both in number and performance in Sri Lanka. Female graduates not only contributed in professional and education settings, but also in building local capacity by educating and empowering women and girls in local communities. Such progress in gender equality in Sri Lanka are the result of long-term collaboration between the Resident Coordinator’s Office (RCO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs in Sri Lanka, in supporting and implementing the Sri Lanka United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) from 2013 to 2017 that put great emphasis on advancing gender equality in the workplace.

While Sri Lanka has made impressive progress in women’s education and empowerment, Premaiavantha reported that further efforts are still needed to ensure women’s employment in the private workplace. Although women’s employment has increased in public institutions, private companies prefer employing males over females, due to gender assumptions like “men can work later hours than women.” Premaiavantha urged overcoming these assumptions and increasing women’s role in both public and private sectors.

Moreover, technology and innovation have made significant contributions in creating work opportunities for women in healthcare. Premaiavantha reported that in a village program in Sri Lanka, midwives are now using mobile applications to find information and to do research, which greatly improved the quality of healthcare delivered by midwives to pregnant women. He concluded that the key to successful women’s empowerment through technology and innovation is effective collaboration from multiple stakeholders (that reflects SDG17 about partnerships). He is confident that women will be increasingly involved in science and medicine in the future.

Part Two of this report covers the side event held on the second day of the STI Forum, on Artificial Intelligence and Technology Tools for Mental Health, Well-being and Resilience.

Submitted by: Janell Lin, Youth intern for IAAP, Smith College student