16 May 2017: The UN held the second annual Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for the SDGs (STI Forum), with a special focus on six of the Sustainable Development Goals. Participants from government, the private sector, civil society, academia and youth groups discussed ways in which STI can contribute to realizing SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), and SDG 14 (life below water).

The STI Forum took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 15-16 May 2017, co-chaired by Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya, and Vaughan Turekian, Science and Technology Adviser to the US Secretary of State. The STI Forum is a component of the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) outlined in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which calls on the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to convene the STI Forum once a year to discuss cooperation on STI around thematic areas for the implementation of the SDGs. The TFM also includes an Inter-Agency Task Team on STI for SDGs (IATT), a 10-Member Group, and an online platform.

Opening the Forum on 15 May, ECOSOC President Frederick Shava said that despite the available sustainable technology to design solutions for sustainable development challenges, no real progress will be made without action on the ground. Action-oriented cooperation on STI, he added, can also bridge divides across borders and between various communities, while strengthening communication and collaboration. Shava highlighted the participation of a large contingency of young people in the 2017 Forum, including as speakers and innovators.

UNGA President Peter Thomson called for addressing unequal access to technology, innovation and connectivity, and broadening women’s access. He also noted the need to manage the risks – social, political, economic, ethical, security and human rights-related – associated with advancements in STI, including protection against cyberattacks, privacy concerns, and loss of jobs due to innovation. Thomson stressed that the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) are in need of financial resources, and encouraged all Member States to “find ways to increase their support.”

Thomas Gass, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), on behalf of Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo, said that of the 169 SDG targets, there is scarcely a target isolated from technology. He also noted that in many cases, the needed technology is not necessarily “high,” nor must it come from Silicon Valley.

Turekian encouraged participants to think about the Forum as a laboratory, and work together across disciplines, specialties and borders. Kamau called on participants to engage not only in dialogue but in “multi-logue,” including people from different areas, and to make this the premier global forum for STI’s interface with global policymakers.

The two-day Forum featured a series of 90-second innovation pitches for solutions addressing each of the six focal SDGs. Innovators from around the world were invited to submit their scientific and technological solutions, and 12 were selected to present them at the Forum. John Gibbons’ ‘Babajob in India’ provides a platform for job seekers in India to apply for jobs online and offline, and he announced plans to make these services available for low-income job seekers in other countries as well. Mridul Chowdhury’s ‘Farmer Query System in Bangladesh’ connects farmers in rural areas with experts from cities all over the world through smart phones, enabling knowledge exchange. Ahnna Gudmunds’ ‘Virtual Farmers Market in Zambia’ acts like an eBay for smallholders, connecting them with digital, innovative markets. Asher Hasan’s ‘DoctHERs’ showed how female doctors have been excluded from the workforce in Pakistan and are now connected to consumers in remote, rural and urban areas by phone. This has led to 30,000 paid video consultations to date and affected over 300,000 lives through screenings, he added, noting plans to affect 20 million lives by 2030.

Adama Kane’s ‘JokkoSante’ is a mobile platform for sharing and cross-financing medications in Senegal, incentivizing pharmacists and patients to work together to provide medicines to those in need. Emmanuel Owobu’s ‘OMOMI’ makes use of mobile technology devices and tools such as phones, tablets, SMS, apps, Interactive Voice Recordings and videos to solve pressing healthcare problems in developing countries. Kevin Lee’s ‘Mobilized Construction in Africa’ de-mechanizes road construction by mobilizing local labor to manually build climate-resilient dirt roads. Rebecca Firth’s ‘Missing Maps’ uses small satellite imaginary pieces to map parts of places and communities previously unmapped. Jiwon Park ‘CodePhil in the Philippines’ teaches coding and entrepreneurial skills to students and teachers to address these gaps in the school curricula, and connects students with mentors. Bailey Ulbricht’s ‘Paper Airplanes’ provides free one-on-one technological skills training to refugees and people fleeing from conflict.

During the Forum’s discussions, Heide Hackmann, Executive Director of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and Co-Chair of the TFM 10-Member Group, said the big question is how the Forum can sustain momentum to expedite the delivery of the TFM. She highlighted the power of the UN and the STI Forum to convene a diverse community of funders and expertise, and to leverage their resources to support the TFM for SDG implementation.

Hackman also reported on a recent meeting between the 10-Member Group and representatives of nine funding communities, on how to finance the SDGs. She said the respective funding communities recognized their role in unlocking financing and technological potential to support the SDGs, and are considering convening a larger meeting of these communities. The 10-Member Group will report to the 2018 STI Forum on the progress of this collaboration.

Shantanu Mukherjee, DESA, briefed participants on he TFM’s online platform, which he said will assess both online and offline STI initiatives, offering all stakeholders the opportunity to engage. He said the platform needs to be dynamic, with updated content and an effective search engine, and incentivize constant engagement. He added that the platform should serve as the main node for a wide variety of national and regional networks. Financing the platform remains a challenge, he said.

Klaus Tilmes, World Bank, discussed the mapping exercise of existing UN STI initiatives, which was undertaken following the model of a global expenditure review. He said the exercise had found that: there are 23 STI-related commitments in the AAAA; 26 of the SDG’s 169 targets are related to STI; and there are 20 UN agencies with known STI involvement. The exercise had identified 1,600 UN STI initiatives, including 2,600 staff, a US$1 billion budget, and US$120 billion in loans and grants.

Closing the meeting on 16 May, Kamau recognized the participation of ministers who not only attended but also challenged the Forum, and called on the UN to re-establish the Scientific Advisory Board, saying this is necessary for the UN to provide needed global leadership. Turekian noted that a linear progression over the years with regards to the Forum “will not get us where we need to be, it has to be geometric.”

Shava said the Forum had shown what is possible when youth and innovators bring their talent and energy to servicing the SDGs. He invited Member States to continue supporting them. He also saluted the recommendations of the Forum on aligning STI national plans with the SDGs and incentivizing the STI community to focus efforts on the SDGs.

Shava reminded participants that the STI Forum’s recommendation will be presented to the 2017 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in July. [ENB Meeting Coverage] [UNGA President’s Opening Remarks] [UN Summary of Day 1] [UN Summary of Day 2]