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Innovation policy must push ‘appropriate’ tech amid lack of online access — UN ESCAP

INCLUSIVENESS AND APPROPRIATE, cost-effective technology must be core features of any innovation policy because of the uneven nature of access to online resources, a United Nations expert said.

“Putting inclusivity at the heart of STI (science, technology and innovation) policy in a post-pandemic world will be absolutely vital,” according to Jonathan Wong, chief of technology and innovation of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP).

Speaking at the BusinessWorld Virtual Economic Forum on Thursday, he said there are over 2 billion people in the Asia Pacific — or around half of the region’s population — without internet access, pointing to deep inequality.

Countries that lag in STI capability, said Mr. Wong, should spend on cost-effective appropriate technology with proven results instead of investing valuable resources in new frontier technologies.

“It’s natural for people like me who work in technology and innovation to get carried away with new frontier technologies like AI (artificial intelligence) or blockchain,” he said, “but there are many technologies that are already out there that could have a huge impact now and not in the future.”

In the Philippines, the Science for Change Program bill proposes to increase the allocation of research and development to 2% of gross domestic product within the next five years.

While this sends a good signal, Mr. Wong said that the government should think carefully about where these investments go, and recommended improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in order to develop human capital.

Another way to push “mission-oriented” STI is to tap the private sector, which has been a source of economic dynamism and innovation in the region.

“Governments can really … incentivize businesses to develop innovations that are more inclusive, that benefit the very poorest people, that engage more women and girls, that look at addressing social and environmental challenges as well as addressing profit,” Mr. Wong said.

The Association for Southeast Asian Nations signed off on guidelines for the promotion of inclusive business in 2020. The framework is meant to guide institutions and governments that aim to support inclusive businesses.

Thailand has the Social Enterprise Promotion act, which gives special provisions to businesses or enterprises that both make profit and have social purpose.

Mr. Wong added: “I advise governments … to put inclusion at the heart of innovation policy. It’s as simple as that. That’s what we need to do if we are to leave no one behind.” — Brontë H. Lacsamana