Foresight and Innovation Summit: Not your usual summit

Friday, 20 May 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The countdown has begun. As I write this, the UNDP Office in Sri Lanka is bustling in preparation for the First National Summit on Foresight and Innovation which will take stage on 24 and 25 May.

Bringing together over 200 participants and resource people from nine countries, the summit will provide a platform for the public sector, private sector, and civil society to engage in a two-day national dialogue on how we can create the Sri Lanka that we want and need by 2030.dfy

There will be discussions, challenges, and debates, and diverse ideas and perspectives will be shared – but is this just another summit where there will be much engagement and little follow-up action? The answer is no.

I can think of many reasons as to why this is not merely another summit. 

The most apparent is the organic approach that led to the need for a summit.

The year 2015 was a defining year for global development. The 15 year period to achieve the Millennium Development Goals had come to an end, and countries celebrated successes, while clearly identifying areas that needed to be addressed further. In this backdrop, the year 2015 also saw the launch of the 2030 Global Agenda for Sustainable Development; and this was our immediate call to action. 

What could we do to help Sri Lanka realise the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030? How could we assist in creating the Sri Lanka that we all want and need by 2030? We started speaking to multiple stakeholders, including the government, private sector partners, potential stakeholders, and youth; and we started asking the real questions – What can we do differently? What more can we do? Who needs to be involved? 

Through our discussions, we realised that while working closely with the Government, it was essential to engage with the private sector to achieve our shared goals. This was no surprise as the 2030 Agenda was developed with substantial private sector input. Shortly after the launch of the 2030 Agenda, in September 2015, we hosted the Social Good Summit (SGS) in partnership with UN Global Compact. The discussions identified the need for greater engagement with the private sector in national development planning and implementation, and in the collective approach to achieving the targets of the 2030 Agenda.

Our subsequent conversations with a diverse range of partners brought out similar sentiments – a clear call for greater collaboration. We all needed to come together to see how and what can be done differently in order to pave the way forward for a sustainable future for Sri Lanka. 

The next question was: How can UNDP convene and collaborate with partners to support futuristic and visionary development planning?

Being a long standing partner of choice for the Government, and as a programme with a strong focus on innovation, UNDP took the lead in discovering new ways for collaboration. This meant scanning the horizon, coming out of our safe zones and seeing how we can do things differently to work with all partners to achieve a common objective. 

And then we found the answer: Foresight and Innovation – tools that many governments and other partners for development are rapidly incorporating into their work to help create sound and resilient plans and frameworks that contribute towards a sustainable future.

We had to find a way in which we could introduce these useful and revolutionary tools to the multiple stakeholders in Sri Lanka.

Over the last nine months, building on the initial steps and discussions, we continued to consult with the private sector, development partners, the Government and civil society. Together with our partners we conducted five consultations across the island; in Colombo, Kandy, Matara and Trincomalee, to hear from the people of Sri Lanka and to understand their thoughts on what we collectively envision for 2030. Since then, the discussions kept growing and an idea started taking shape.

We decided to create a platform that brought together the private sector, public sector, and civil society, and enabled a constructive, useful, and much needed holistic national dialogue to envision the way forward to achieve sustainable human development. And here we are now, all set to host the First National Summit on Foresight and Innovation on Sustainable Human Development.

Our main counterpart in organising the summit is the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs. The Minister himself has committed to engaging and continuing the dialogue in Sri Lanka in how we can use foresight and innovation as tools to build resilient policies that create the futuristic Sri Lanka that we all envision.

Partners for the summit include the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research, United Nations Global Compact, Sarvodaya, LIRNEasia, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, and the Co-financing Summit Partner, Ceylon Biscuits Limited.  

Tapping into our global pool of knowledge and expertise built over the last 50 years, UNDP has mobilised resource personnel from 9 countries to share valuable insights in using foresight and innovation at the summit: UN Pulse Lab – Jakarta, the UNDP Centre for Public Service Excellence – Singapore, myForesight – Malaysia, Mind Lab – Denmark, GIZ – Germany, Superflux – UK, UNDP Kolba Lab – Armenia, UNDP MiLab – Moldova, eGov Centre – Moldova, and Fields of View – India. 

The open plenary and parallel sessions over the two days will focus on a wide variety of issues across the thematic areas of social, environment and economic, and governance and innovation. With the intention of informing and familiarising key development practitioners and development planners with futuristic thinking and real-time responsiveness to policy-making, we will be introducing four foresight tools to all participants at the summit: ‘game-based’, ‘tech-based’, ‘big data’, and ‘offline participatory’ tools, which participants will use during the sessions.

By introducing these foresight and innovation tools to the participants, we hope to foster a development sector that is forward looking and visionary in planning national and local development projects and to develop resilient policies.

In addition to the working sessions, the summit will feature several high-level plenaries. The plenary ‘Reimagining Governance: An Opportunity for Sri Lanka’ will be held with the participation of the Prime Minister. Following this, another session on ‘Disruptive Innovation’ will take place with the Ministers for Science, Technology and Research and Digital Infrastructure. There will also be a high-level private sector plenary on ‘Innovation for Sustainability: Role of the Private Sector’ featuring senior representatives of some of the biggest corporates in the country. 

While all of this ensures that this is not just another summit, the main differentiator is the Outcome Document that will be officially handed over to the Minister of National Policies of Economic Affairs at the closing plenary of the summit. This document will present recommendations and the way forward in developing the desired Sri Lanka by 2030, based on the multi-sectoral discussions that will take place at the summit.

We are serious about creating the Sri Lanka that we all want and need by 2030, and we need to start now in developing plans that will be feasible and apt for futuristic scenarios. 

The Summit on Foresight and Innovation for Sustainable Human Development is our collective first step in achieving this goal. This is not just another summit. This is UNDP joining hands with the Government, and the people of our country, to build a happy, peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka by 2030; and it starts now.

Join the discussion: #2030NOW

(The writer is the Head of Communications at UNDP Sri Lanka. He is also the Youth and Innovations Focal Point. In August 2015, he was selected as an Innovations Ambassador for the UNDP Asia-Pacific Region).

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