15 July 2011 | EN
Islamic nations should form a 'forward bloc' on science for development to reverse a poor record of collaboration, argues Athar Osama.
For many years, science leaders at the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have faced a rather lethargic response from member states to the activities and calls for funding of its Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH).
In an effort to establish a coalition of countries committed to scientific collaboration, last year they set up the Science, Technology and Innovation Organisation (STIO) as COMSTECH's implementation arm.
STIO has an approved annual budget of US$70 million, with four member states — Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria — each already committing US$5 million annually towards projects to be defined by each member state and approved by COMSTECH.
STIO was to support these national projects — perhaps with voluntary international collaboration — in exchange for a 'fee' equalling 10 per cent of the country's committed amount. As an added assurance, the money was to be deposited in accounts within member countries and not allowed to cross national boundaries.
Despite these early commitments and assurances, member countries of the OIC — which recently changed its name to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation — have yet to make good on their financial commitments. And with half of its first year already gone, STIO is yet to launch a major programme.
'Your money for your development'
Although STIO has struggled to get off the ground, it is too early to dismiss it completely. But it is important to understand why its progress has stalled so quickly.
The deal that brought STIO to life solved two problems that hampered OIC efforts to raise funds for science and technology (S&T) collaboration.
First, by allowing voluntary membership, it liberated the OIC from the burden of organising its 57 member countries, which often lacked a shared sense of direction.
Second, its premise of 'your money for your development' tried to avoid the myopic rivalries and concerns about free-riding between member states.
However, in trying to solve these problems, and in particular, by adopting the 'your money for your development' approach, STIO seems to have undersold its own value to its members.
Despite STIO's teething troubles, the basic idea of enhancing cooperation and policy coordination between OIC member countries on S&T is both noble and compelling. It also made sense to start by demonstrating success within a small group of countries willing to take the necessary steps.
However, the manner in which STIO has executed this idea leaves much to be desired. To begin with, although several OIC countries have cooperated with more developed nations, the rationale for why they must work together is yet to be clearly fleshed out.
And in the absence of a compelling set of international projects and a clear value proposition, member states may perceive STIO as an unnecessary tax on national S&T budgets. Countries may justifiably be reluctant to share their slice of the S&T pie if they cannot see how it will benefit them.
To resurrect its mission, STIO must provide a compelling vision of what can be achieved if OIC countries take the less travelled road of intra-OIC collaboration. It must also present a clear rationale of how it will add value in exchange for the 10 per cent it seeks for its services.
Addressing these challenges will require painstaking work within the confines of STIO's inaugural resolution. And it must come out as a winner.
The stakes are high: creating STIO took years of diplomatic hard work to get around the impasse at COMSTECH, and failure could set the OIC's science cooperation agenda back by at least a couple of decades.
Muslim countries must also explore and encourage alternative ways to promote collaboration in S&T. The OIC must encourage forums outside the OIC to encourage like-minded countries to form coalitions committed to the broad principles of using S&T for development.
But how should such a 'forward bloc' come about? The answer may be much easier than many anticipate.
One potential candidate may be the D8 (Developing 8), which is a group of eight developing countries with a mainly Muslim population joined together by a mutual desire for greater cooperation on development.
Formed in 1997 in Istanbul, the D8 binds its member countries — Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey — in an alliance on issues ranging from trade to energy, agriculture and human development.
The D8 could be an ideal choice for a forward bloc of Muslim countries seeking to take proactive steps in science-based development. Its members have a sense of shared history and destiny, and have similar human and financial resources.
Although individual countries broadly agree on issues of science-based development, if the D8 is to be effective it should re-assert the importance of S&T in almost every area of focus in its charter.
Making such a connection will provide a common philosophical thread that will tie these areas together, and re-energise the D8 to use S&T to address the common development challenges facing its member countries.
By encouraging the creation of a forward bloc in D8 and making it successful, the OIC could inspire its more sceptical members to follow suit.
Athar Osama is a London-based science and innovation policy researcher and consultant, and director of Middle East and Asia for a technology policy consulting firm. He is the founder of Muslim-Science.com.
A. A. Khan ( Pakistan )
20 July 2011
Well, to my uderstanding of the state of science affairs in the Islamic world, the core issue is the absense of political will at the highest level. Explaining this syndrome of political will is not as simple as it may look. One may be mistaken by having a look at lofty speeches by the political leaders of these nations in which they talk hi-fi about science and education and if you have a look at the resolutions passed by the heads of states and governments, you may have a feeling as if something big is going to happen very soon and science would be top national agenda making rapid advancement but sadly nothing chages on ground.
I am not a political activist, but I think when Muslim nations shall have educated (in real sense) and science-litreate (at least) political leaders, things would change very fast and all this talk about Muslim science would become meaningful then.
As long as these nations lack political will to execute their own decisions, no vision can help them make progress on science.
When you move on ground, you automatically become clearer on vision but if you do it only on paper,,you will not end up on details.
Please tell our leaders to be practical.
Athar Osama ( United Kingdom )
20 July 2011
Dear AA Khan, I beg to differ with you here. I don't think there is dearth of political will in the Islamic World. The Abu Dhabi government spends billions of dollars a year on technology-related investments (AMD etc.), Saudi science budget is over a billion dollars a year, Malaysia, Turkey, and Iran spend a lot of money as well. I think the problem is with the vision. There is no vision of Intra-OIC science collaboration. If you can find a document that lays out a concrete vision - beyond some rhetorical speeches - please share it.
You talk about creating political will. How do you create political will? By providing a compelling vision of what it means to collaborate. You can't expect political will to be created just like that, do you? I think the idea of science literacy is a good one. However, it is merely a trick to delay doing what is needed today. We will keep on telling ourselves that political will cannot be created because our society is not science literate so lets delay making the choices for another 20 years. And obviously science literacy will not be created because we don't have the political will to do so.
arasheedyassin ( Yemen )
23 July 2011
There is no vision of Intra-OIC science collaboration. If you can find a document that lays out a concrete vision - beyond some rhetorical speeches - please share it.
What you mentioned is the core of the problem within the Islamic nations and especially in Arab countries - absence of vision.
You very well ,mentioned that some of the countries spend part of their budget on technology/science, but are the results obtained. No materialistic gains that can promote developments and improve at least the prevailing situations in most of the Islamic countries. Technologies are ultimately required for promotion and improvement of living standards via education and innovations. But name one Isalmic country that has reached any firm ground for intra or inter - Islamic or Pan-Arabian progress.
Let us put the horse in front of the cart and not vice versa. European countries are still lagging behind on technology developments for human benefits. Send in a rocket, or a shuttle in space, or producing ammunition of mass destruction like nuclear weapons by western countries and sulphur bombs are no progress. It is the destruction of globe and deterioration of nature.
Let us force Americans to sign the global anti warming treaty, and let us force Israel to sign anti nuclear and sulphur weapon production treaty.
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