Martin Bille Hermann, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the UN, noted that sometimes partnerships with the private sector on private sector’s terms are essential, and we need to strengthen the UN’s ability to act as a catalyst for innovation.
Alfred Birkegaard Hansted, Novozymes, said the greatest risk facing the world is no longer a world war, but climate change and the current environmental crisis, and the UN’s focus and investments need to adapt to that.
The side event took place on the margins of the UN's annual Science, Technology and Innovation Forum.
13 May 2019: On the margins of UN’s annual forum on science, technology, and innovation (STI Forum), representatives of governments, the UN system, the private sector and academia zoomed in on building SDG networks in STI. Participants explored concrete examples of such networks and reflected on challenges and opportunities with regard to innovation for SDGs.
The side event took place on 13 May 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Denmark and Mexico, the UN Foundation and HelloScience. Martin Bille Hermann, Permanent Representative of Denmark, highlighted the importance of not only innovation, but partnerships and networks. He said we need to “crack the code” of SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals) to achieve all the other SDGs. He introduced the term of “techvelopment” that the Danish government has introduced in its humanitarian work, which is the use of technology for development. He cautioned that technology by itself does not imply innovation, as innovation is much more than that, given the importance of partnerships and rootedness in the challenges for which the world needs solutions. He further noted that sometimes partnerships with the private sector on the private sector actor’s terms are essential, and sometimes failure of those partnerships is nobody’s fault; we need to strengthen the UN’s ability to act as a catalyst for innovation by harnessing the opportunities and mitigating the risks technology poses, through partnerships.
The UN has the power to produce narratives to catalyze investments in the SDGs.
Satya Tripathi, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said SDG 17 is “the mother of all SDGs.” He said the “reputational risk” associated with partnering is really a cloak under which to hide the UN’s lack of performance. He said the UN must take action on partnering with the private sector, since it accounts for 70% of GDP. Also noted the need for a platform to bring together the 350 million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the world, which he said are responsible for 80% of our carbon footprint, to address sustainable economic growth. Tripathi concluded by stressing that the UN has the power and responsibility to produce the needed narratives to catalyze investments in the SDGs.
Jennifer Costley, New York Academy of Sciences, presented the ‘2030 Vision,’ which is a multi-stakeholder partnership currently moving from inception to setting up working groups and regular meetings for members. The partnership aims to transform the use of technology to support the delivery of the SDGs, and to unlock the SDGs’ commercial opportunities by identifying and scaling up impactful technologies.
Chris Fabian, co-founder of the UN Chlidren’s Fund (UNICEF) Innovation Unit, said that in 2014-2015 UNICEF started to build a venture capital fund, but with donors rather than private investors. He said the SDGs appear to represent a risk of “zero traction” when pitched without being translated into private sector language. He said UNICEF’s fund addresses this “vocabulary issue” by mixing SDG and private sector language. He said the fund also aims to create a “culture of failure” within the UN, because that enables a culture of experimenting, which is essential for innovation.
Alfred Birkegaard Hansted, Novozymes, recalled that the UN was created in the ashes of World War II (WWII) to prevent another world war, and did an excellent job on that. But, he cautioned, now the greatest risk facing the world is not a world war but climate change and broader environmental crisis, and the UN’s focus and investments must adapt to that.
Henrik Juul Nielsen, GRUNDFOS, presented Hello Science, which is a platform created by Novozymes to accelerate the development and deployment of technology to solve global challenges by connecting people and resources. The platform is designed for sharing expertise, technology and resources to create an ecosystem of partners who develop sustainable solutions together.
In the ensuing discussion, participants raised issues related to: the SDGs’ potential to create 380 million jobs by 2030; ways to generate a “domino” effect from the UNICEF’s work to spur innovation throughout the UN; and the need to focus on reducing inequality when it comes to technology.
The STI Forum took place from 14-15 May 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [IISD Coverage of STI Forum]