21 December 2012

Africa: Use Innovation to Ease Inequality in Poorer Nations, Says OECD

Cape Town — Science, technology and innovation should be used to benefit lower-income groups in developing nations and help bridge the inequality gap hindering development, says a report.

As an example, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report says that various applications based on information and communication technologies (ICT) - which have been developed to support agriculture, fishing, health, education and mobile banking - have improved conditions for lower-income groups.

The report, entitled 'Innovation and Inclusive Development', says that income inequalities are wider in emerging and developing countries than in nations that belong to the OECD, resulting in large segments of the population of low-income nations living in poverty.

The document was launched at a conference organised by the OECD and the South African government's Department of Science & Technology (DST) last month (21-23 November) in Cape Town, South Africa.

The conference and report are part of an effort to gather views for a project entitled Innovation and Knowledge for Inclusive Development that the OECD plans to carry out in 2013­­-­14.

"Income inequalities reduce opportunities for the poor and their contribution to the economy, hindering the development process," Caroline Paunov, an economist in the OECD directorate for science, technology and industry, and the report's author, tells SciDev.Net.

Inclusive innovation - those that give an excluded group access to economic opportunities and quality goods and services - should harness science, technology and innovation to address the needs of lower-income people, according to the report.

"Facilitating the dissemination of innovations and technologies can help increase overall performance, lessen income inequality and stimulate growth," it says.

Gillian Marcelle, an associate professor at Wits Business School at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, says that developing countries, particularly those in Africa, lack significant capacity to formulate and implement innovation policies, which need major investment and a well-educated workforce.

"The OECD has in the past been blamed for bringing [unworkable] models to fix inequality problems in developing countries," says Yonah Seleti, chief director of indigenous knowledge systems at DST.

He says that its proposed policies should consider what would most benefit people at the grassroots.

Aldo Stroebel, Director International Academic Projects in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor from the University of the Free State in South Africa, has concerns that the report contains few examples of innovation for inclusiveness that people can identify with.

Alexis Habiyaremye, assistant professor of economics at Antalya International University in Turkey, questions whether the OECD's apparent determination to raise awareness about using innovation to deliver inclusive development will achieve results.

"The OECD is for rich countries. Now it wants to include everybody in its agenda. But how is innovation going to solve the problems of developing countries when global governance has no political will to solve them," he says.

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