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A “breakthrough” UN initiative for transferring technology and building scientific capacity in the least developed countries (LDCs) will move closer in “a matter of weeks” when a panel to flesh out the proposals is announced, says an official close to the process.

The high-level panel will consist of around a dozen experts from various backgrounds, including scientists, business leaders and government representatives, according to Khalil Rahman, chief of policy coordination for the LDCs at UN-OHRLLS (the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States).

It will organise a feasibility study to help get the UN’s tech transfer mechanism — known as the Technology Bank — off the ground, he says.

Turkey hopes to host the bank and has already committed to funding the feasibility study and some of the panel’s activities, Rahman adds.

The study would set out how the Technology Bank project — which gained the support of a 2011 UN General Assembly resolution — would operate, by defining working methods and identifying governance arrangements, funding opportunities and potential paths for promoting research and innovation, he says.

Despite early concerns that ideological differences over issues such as accessing intellectual property rights may hamstring discussions, the mood was now optimistic, he tells SciDev.Net.

“This is regarded as a breakthrough for the UN system and we haven’t heard any criticism at all,” Rahman says. “The mood is overwhelmingly one of excitement.”

During last year’s General Assembly meeting, there was widespread support from both developed countries — such as Japan, the United States and those in Europe — that possess most technology and patents, and the LDCs who would be the end users, he says.

The bank will encapsulate three distinct but interrelated areas that are essential for harnessing technology for development, Rahman adds.

The first would be a patent bank that would help LDCs negotiate access to appropriate intellectual property rights while protecting patent holders’ commercial interests.

Secondly, a science, technology and innovation mechanism would build capacity in target countries by encouraging South-South cooperation, running business and enterprise training, helping to establish technology incubators and tapping into expertise in the diaspora.

Thirdly, a ‘research depository facility’ could provide LDC researchers with better access to scientific literature and create networks to widen researchers’ horizons beyond their countries’ own, often underdeveloped, research communities.

The General Assembly must approve the final plans, but Rahman foresees the Technology Bank going live in 2015 to coincide with the new sustainable development agenda that will follow the end of the Millennium Development Goals and the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The current ‘zero draft’ of the SDGs calls for UN nations to “fully operationalize the Technology Bank and STI (Science, Technology and Innovation) Capacity Building Mechanism for LDCs by 2017”.

Teresa Liu, chief of Development Solutions and Technology Exchange at the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), says it has been a “tremendous effort” to bring together the three elements of the Technology Bank.

But, she adds, to be truly effective, the initiative must be more than an information pool.

Drawing on UNOSSC experiences with the South-South Global Assets and Technology Exchange — a UN-hosted mechanism that allows developing world entrepreneurs to interact and obtain technology, assets and finance — Liu sees having sufficient human capacity available to aid users to make use of the information as key to making this happen.

To acquire crucial technologies and financing, many small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries greatly benefit from assistance in assessing market opportunities, finding partners, turning ideas into business opportunities, and negotiations with partners, she says.

“The tasks awaiting us are huge, but the initiative will expand its value by leveraging other existing efforts, such as those of other UN agencies,” Liu tells SciDev.Net.
Link to a background note on the Technology Bank