The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges in living memory. Across the world, all heads are turned to the potential of science, technology and innovation to unlock the solutions to the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in.
A concerning study by the OECD earlier this year estimated that as a result of COVID-19 and its toll on global finance, external private finance inflows to developing economies could drop by US$700 billion in 2020 compared to 2019 levels, exceeding the immediate impact of the 2008 global financial crisis by 60%.
The financing gap to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has therefore significantly widened and threatened years of progress. For the IsDB, this leaves our member countries exposed to development setbacks.
This is alarming, but we must not underestimate the power of science. I truly do believe that the answers will come from the talented minds that are willing to take on the challenge. We need to revisit our theories and models; the solution is already right in front of us, to not only combat the virus but to achieve the SDGs.
In order to incentivize such solutions, we are looking to encourage innovations through initiatives such as our Transform Fund, which we recently pivoted to look at COVID-19 solutions. Through our US$500 million Transform Fund, the IsDB announced a new call for innovation, which challenges scientists, innovators, research centers, universities and entrepreneurs to present trailblazing projects to address the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate its economic and social repercussions.
These advances in science, technology and innovation are twofold, as they can unlock solutions to combating the virus as well as enhancing the competitiveness of our member countries, working toward closing the SDG finance gap.
The focus for this particular call for innovation is on scaling up solutions built on advanced technology (such as internet of things, big data, blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI)) to track and monitor the spread of COVID-19 and other emerging infectious diseases for improved disease surveillance systems and patient care.
As well as these innovations, I believe that open science is an effective tool in engaging the public in conversation and is the key to mobilizing innovation across a number of sectors. We have seen how open science, across different countries, has been incredibly beneficial to the developing world and we have seen this specifically in the field of social innovation, where COVID-19 is less about adaptation and innovation, but survival.
Open science has tremendous power: it encourages multidisciplinary and social innovation. In order for both open science and open innovation to be beneficial tools, we need to have joint programs between G20 countries and developing countries to improve collaborative capacity-building.
Through our Transform Fund, innovative ideas are translated into real development solutions that will address challenges and empower the communities to realize their full potential.
What’s more, we know that AI is a vital tool when looking at scaling up the solutions that are key to progress in the developing world and we have seen the value of this field during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen how AI will be a game-changer in improving the lives of the world’s poor; if we apply this technology to solving the world’s problems, we can lower the cost of treatment, diagnostics and the availability to basic health utilities.
AI has really transformed the fight against COVID-19, looking more broadly than just medical innovation. We are looking at rapid polymer and metal 3D printed open source ventilators and masks, online mesh technologies for supporting non-contact socially distanced meetings and big data identifying and engaging suitable retired doctors and nurses to rejoin the health service.
That said, COVID-19 knows no borders and as a result, any response to the pandemic must not be confined to individuals, but joins the dots between the entire science, technology and innovation ecosystem.
To ensure long-term sustainable progress, we need to empower local partners and their communities through the transfer of technology and knowledge that has the power to transform millions of lives around the world.
This is why two years ago, the IsDB launched Engage — an online ecosystem that connects scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs from all over the world. The platform is the first of its kind for the developing world, and will focus on six SDGs, ultimately helping to improve the lives of millions of people.
I hold great promise for everyone to unleash their potential and think innovatively and quickly in finding solutions to combat COVID-19, as well as striving toward achieving the SDGs through the power of science, technology and innovation.
Since the dawn of humankind, we have seen how the power of science has defied expectation. I believe what we can do for civilization is unlimited.
Dr Hayat Sindi is the senior advisor to the president of the IsDB.