Sustainable technology and design for least developed countries

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According to the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development Report (2019), it will be practically impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 without the development and appropriate application of science, technology and innovation. Rapid technological change can contribute to the faster achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through several mechanisms by: improving real incomes (through increased productivity and reduced cost of goods and services); enabling faster and wider deployment of novel solutions to economic, social and environmental obstacles that operate as binding constraints on development; supporting more inclusive forms of participation in social and economic life; replacing environmentally costly modes of production with more sustainable ones; and giving policymakers powerful tools to design and plan development interventions. 

Growing global concerns about environmental problems such as climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss and about social problems related to poverty, health, working circumstances, safety and inequity, are beginning to demand wide spread sustainability approaches not only for industry, but also for technology. 

Mobile technology has transformed lives and promoted financial inclusion in least developed countries (LDCs), indicating the potential impact sustainable technology has in poverty eradication. However, scaling these technologies has encountered a variety of challenges including: poor regulatory and policy framework; weak institutional support and governance; high cost of technology and lack of access to finance; lack of awareness and access to technical information; and lack of skilled human resources.

Fragmented and inadequate regulatory and policy framework has been a major impediment to sustainable technology adoption and scaling. This is further compounded by inadequate or restrictive government policies and regulations in a number of countries. Public institutions, including universities and government agencies, have not adequately played their roles in promoting research and development due to lack of sufficient funding that emanates from inadequate budgetary allocations, lack of a clear government policy and very few public private partnerships among the private sector, government research institutions and the academia 

LDCs still have inadequate infrastructure, internet access that is still expensive, lack of fully developed infrastructure to support networking, high-performance computing, and the use of GIS. Entrepreneurship ecosystems in the sustainable technology space are not active due to lack of access to finance. Insufficient resources also make it very difficult to build local capacity. 

Inadequate donor support often contribute to weakening rather than strengthening human resource capacity and effective system design, since it emphasizes the technology itself in the expense of the needs of users. 

Policy interventions, including change in governance frameworks: policies, laws and institutions to trigger change, on a foundation of equity, inclusiveness and participation are needed to create an enabling environment for sustainable technologies. Having them in place stimulates investment, financing, innovation, and enables transition to sustainable technology and design. . Some of the interventions are: circular economy; sharing economy; policy harmonization; innovative financing schemes; innovative partnerships; and synergistic implementation.  

Economic systems are moving from the current linear models to circular economy. Circular economy calls for prioritizing regenerative resources (use of renewable, reusable, non-toxic), maximizing the lifetime of products, using waste as resources, rethinking business models, designing for the future; all of which call for sustainable technologies and design.

Today’s society is changing from the belief that owning things is commensurate to one’s status in society, more and more people are becoming inclined to agree that there are sometimes real advantages to renting over owning – access is the new ownership, for some time now, a number of large organizations, have always opted to lease motor vehicles and IT equipment like computers. The same also applies to technologies – the trend is moving from legacy systems that were siloed and required high total cost ownership, to shared infrastructure resources.

Harmonization of policies across multiple sectors creates an enabling environment to drive sustainable technologies and design, and in order to catalyze investment that promote clean energy powered value addition, policies will need to reconcile across industries and sectors and private investors to ensure relevant-cross cutting policies that incentivize investment by both state and non-state actors.

Today’s challenges calls upon all businesses and entrepreneurship ecosystems to apply their creativity and innovation to solving sustainable technology design challenges. This call to action also seeks to promote social innovation (including innovative practices of indigenous peoples) to support social well-being and sustainable livelihoods. New financial streams (mobile banking; renewable energy systems; retro-fittings in buildings, green bonds, green mortgages) are needed.

Human capital is the most important component of wealth globally. Sustainable technology design call for inter-disciplinary collaboration, where state, non-state, individual, institutional stakeholders drawn from complementary sectors have an opportunity to create mutually beneficial partnerships that can drive the above enablers.

Synergistic implementation is where simultaneous actions on multiple themes needs concerted efforts of countries and the international community first through exploitation of existing mechanisms that enhance policy framework that is an enabler for sustainable technology and design. Then support to research and development, especially for developing countries and economies in transition that focuses on sustainable technologies as per the national requirements. The implementation will also require replication of some of the already existing mechanisms, projects, ideas that already exist or are practiced elsewhere.