SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION IS A POWERFUL ENABLER, WHICH NEEDS TO BE LEVERAGED TO ACCELERATE PROGRESS ON THE THREE DIMENSIONS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT. COSTING AND FINANCING TOOLS ARE CRITICAL TO IDENTIFY GAPS AND RE-BALANCE RESOURCE ALLOCATION TO MEET THE GOALS.
Leveraging Science, Technology, and Innovation for SDGs
- The 2030 Agenda is an ambitious framework of global transformation for sustainable development.
- It calls for well-defined goals and targets to be achieved in globally agreed timeframes.
- Meeting these targets demands transformative changes in the spheres of policy, implementation and monitoring: impeding policies should be reversed and recent advances that promote sustainable development must be rapidly scaled up.
- However, recent experiences indicate that several dimensions under the agenda are not moving in the right direction.
- Four areas stand out in this regard, according to the Global Sustainable Development Report 2019 – climate change, rising inequalities, biodiversity and increasing amount of waste from human activity.
- Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) can play an instrumental role in this environment for realising transformative, if not disruptive, changes.
- The science-policy interface can gather modern evidence-based solutions and channel them into public policy for problem solving.
- STI can make significant contributions in many areas, among which two are particularly critical.
- One, STI can help break the pattern of intensive resource use; and second, it can fully appreciate the interlinkages among the three dimensions of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental; and arrive at multidimensional solutions.
- Experiences around the world and in India show that STI is a critical driver of economic growth, employment generation and inclusive development.
- STI can contribute to inclusiveness by catalysing income growth and serving the special needs of lower-income and excluded groups by ensuring their participation in governance processes and by providing novel forms of delivering missing public goods, while offering climate adaptive solutions.
- In conjunction with new technologies, creative business models and nuanced systems of service delivery, science and technology-based innovations have a vast potential to fast-track the achievement of SDGs in a manner that is cost-effective.
- India has rich experience and expertise in generating, harnessing and multiplying the impact of STI, as well as nurturing innovation ecosystems for solution driven problem solving across the country.
Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) can play an instrumental role in this environment for realising transformative, if not disruptive, changes. The science-policy interface can gather modern evidence based solutions and channel them into public policy for problem solving.
- An early example is the Green Revolution that took place in the 1960s when Indian agriculture widely adopted technologies such as high yield varieties of wheat and mechanised equipment in the food production chain resulting in significant gains in production of food grains and rise in farmer incomes.
- In more recent decades, India’s emergence as an IT services powerhouse and a harbinger for startups have created jobs, solved large-scale problems and further strengthened the country’s technology and innovation ecosystem.
- The SDG framework presents another opportunity for the country to leverage its STI strengths. Twenty-first century challenges call for germane solutions that are technology and innovation based.
- The government and the private sector have been vigorously pursuing the adoption of STI in a variety of fields - a lot of which directly fall under the SDG framework, such as digital and financial inclusion, communication technologies, health sector surveillance and tele-medicine.
Recent STI Initiatives
A range of STI initiatives in the public and private sectors emerged in the recent past which show promising results and pave the way ahead for large-scale development and adoption of STI applications. A few examples are cited below-
- India turned to the power of technology when it came face to face with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Arogya Setu mobile app, developed in the wake of the pandemic crisis, has become one of the key tools in the fight against the spread of the disease.
- The app enables people to assess the risk of exposure to COVID-19 infection based on their interaction with others, using algorithms powered by Bluetooth and Artificial Intelligence technologies.
- Arogya Setu quickly became one of the world’s most popular mobile applications, with over 100 million installations in a span of a few weeks.
- The app was later upgraded to include online telemedicine and medical consultations.
- Waste management is a challenge which majorly urban areas grapple with and is a target area under SDG 11.
- Civic bodies across India are raising awareness about waste disposal and are looking at unique methods to tackle this issue.
- The Urban Local Body (ULB) of NOIDA, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, has recently turned to using plastic waste to construct roads.
- This technology allows for more durability of the road at a reduced cost.
- This system also creates more incentives for the ULB to collect and segregate plastic waste efficiently.
- The state of Andhra Pradesh uses Blockchain in land pooling.
- The technology allows for security and greater transparency in the process and increases the trust of people in the governance procedure.
- Employing this system to track land ownership almost diminishes the probability of property theft and fraud.
- These improvements contribute to progress under SDG 16.
- The state of Telangana has declared 2020 as the ‘Year of AI’ and has set up a blockchain district in the city of Hyderabad.
- Launched in association with various partners and stakeholders including industry and academia, it creates a resource pool of entrepreneurs, experts, investors and trained technicians in Artificial Intelligence.
- This initiative will help remove several obstacles for research and development activities, which is a key agenda under SDG 9.
- The Samagra Shiksha scheme aims at treating school education holistically from pre-nursery to Class 12.
- One of its major emphasis is on promoting digital education.
- This is being done by enhancing the use of digital technology in education through smart classrooms, digital boards and DTH channels and by strengthening digital initiatives like ‘DIKSHA’ and Shala Kosh, Shagun, Shaala Saarthi.
- DIKSHA, which is a digital portal for teachers to upgrade skills, aims to standardise the quality of education across the country.
- It contains lessons in all subjects broken down into efficient parts and is available in eight languages.
- These interventions are expected to contribute significantly to learning outcomes and quality of education, which SDG 4 seeks to improve.
- National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) is an initiative to bring together digital resources across all stages of school education and teacher training.
- States and UTs are encouraged to contribute to the resources on NROER and create their own OERs.
- The Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), driven by NITI Aayog, is radically transforming the innovation and entrepreneurship landscape in India.
- Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL) operating in schools are galvanizing design mindset, computational thinking, adaptive learning and physical computing across various themes.
- AIM has operationalised 5,441 ATLs at the school level, selected over 100 Atal Incubators at the university level and has launched 24 Atal New India Challenges for stimulating product innovation.
- A ‘National Mentors of Change - Mentor India Network‘ has been established with over 3,500 mentors attached to AIM’s initiatives.
- These initiatives are catalysing a huge innovation movement in India’s schools and colleges.
- The COVID-19 crisis was an opportune moment for the start-up players to rise to the challenge and offer low cost, scalable, effective and quick solutions to address the pandemic. AgVa accelerated the development of ventilators which are low-cost, mobile, low on power consumption and form factor and require minimal training for operators. Bio design developed a robotic product called Resper Aid, which enables mechanised use of manual ventilators. Kaaenaat developed portable ventilators which can be used to serve two patients simultaneously and has built-in battery, oxygen concentrator and a steriliser cabinet
- The products of a few non-ventilator startups too came to the aid of the COVID-19 fighting machinery. The AI-enabled analysis of chest X-Rays developed by Qure.ai enables large-scale screening to identify potential COVID-19 positive cases. GIS and geo-fencing technologies by Drona maps enabled information cluster strategies for hotspots. AI-powered online doctor consultation and telemedicine platform by fine connects diagnostics labs and pharmacies with doctors and patients. The AI-enabled thermal imaging camera developed by Staqe facilitated large-scale screening at low cost.
- Agri -Market is a mobile application developed with an aim to keep farmers abreast with crop prices and consequently, discourage them from carrying out distress sales. The application automatically captures the location of the farmer using mobile GPS and fetches the market price of crops which fall within the range of 50 km. The availability of the app in Hindi opens it to a significant customer base.
- Gramin Healthcare describes itself as an ‘institutionalised primary healthcare service provider with the aim of strengthening last mile delivery in rural areas. ‘A typical patient undergoes a physical examination by a health personnel who subsequently creates an Electronic Health Record (EHR) of the patient. The patient’s EHR is accessed by a doctor who then provides tele consultation for medicines or diagnostic tests, if required. This model encourages the creation of a patient ailment history and enables timely access to doctor consultations.
- Forus Health employs Artificial Intelligence to diagnose preventable blindness. Its products screen the retina and develop an image which is run through an algorithm to determine visual health. The AI system can analyse the images to a high degree of detail in real time. Patients who test positive, are referred to an ophthalmologist, thereby leading to early detection of the disease.
- MIMO (Minimum Investment Maximum Outcome) Technologies aims to connect rural India efficiently with the rest of the world. This start-up helps make it easier for companies and individuals to take their products and ideas to rural India. It operates an Android application, MIMO, where organisations can connect with employees from rural areas and hire them for different tasks and contracts. The app also functions as a mobile wallet for agents to collect money and offers a number of utility services like prepaid recharge, bill payments, buying movie tickets etc
- Stell apps Technologies is involved in digitisation of the dairy supply chain in India. By digitising and optimising milk production, milk procurement and cold chain management, it aims to maximise profits for farmers and co-operatives. Sensors across the production chain are used to monitor the quality of milk at each stage.
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