Science and Technology for Society: The Colombo Gathering

Thursday, 1 September 2016 00:08 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


In 2015 the STS Forum in Japan witnessed the presence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe



It is quite rare that we have big scientific forums in Sri Lanka. Even though we speak of MICE tourism, Sri Lanka can hardly rival Singapore in this area or many other countries in the region. However a really big event is shaping up in science to happen in Sri Lanka and the event is not too far away. g

Science and Technology for Society Forum Sri Lanka 2016 will take place from 7 to 10 September in Colombo. The event organised by the Ministry of Science Technology and Research is perhaps the biggest to happen in the country with science and technology as the central theme. It is perhaps important to list the genesis for this event as we live believing in cause and effect!

There is a well-established Science and Technology in Society Forum in Japan and the event has happened 13 times so far. There are many Sri Lankan scientists who have participated in these events in Japan and when the forum was mentioned one seasoned participant believed that the reference was to the Japanese event indicating perhaps that it is unlikely such event will happen in Sri Lanka. 

In 2015 the STS Forum in Japan witnessed the presence of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister and the Minister of Science Technology and Research. Adding to the significance was that the Sri Lankan Prime Minister was a Keynote Speaker for the event as one of the three invited Prime Ministers. Perhaps the event structure and the content made the Sri Lankan PM to remark why not we have a similar event in Sri Lanka to which the Minister of Science Technology and Research duly obliged as he too was present and was witnessing the exactly the same situation. The rest is history and 2016 will witness Sri Lanka’s maiden event but with a slight difference. 


Science and Technology for Society Forum Sri Lanka

The event in Sri Lanka is known as Science and Technology for Society Forum Sri Lanka. The difference is in the emphasis of the presence of S&T in society to the deployment of S&T for the society. In Japan there is plenty of appreciation of S&T in society as Japan’s meteoric rise to global eminence is based on S&T. We cannot say the same in Sri Lanka and we have to emphasise the need to deploy S&T for the society. Hope the subtle difference in title demonstrates the big difference in thinking required to ensure the engagement of S&T to weave the society’s fabric. It is hoped that the event will trigger to form a stronger, better and vibrant compact between science and Sri Lankan society.

The STS Forum in Japan aims to seek new mechanism for emerging issues through open discussions. It has the stated mission of using science and technology to address problems facing the world. The recent forum gave recognition to the fact that the earth is becoming finite for the activities of humankind in the 21st century. 

The conference logo for the Sri Lankan STS Forum indicates the 17 sustainability goals and the significance of S&T in paving way to realise the 169 targets. The forum in Japan brings a highly diverse community. In the 2015 event in Kyoto, 1000 global leaders in S&T from 100 countries had been present. The event in Sri Lanka will have 750 decision makers, scientists and representatives of the emerging generation. This ‘Colombo Gathering’ will have representatives of 24 countries. Event indeed will not be a small feat! 



Interesting message

The conference statement at the end of Kyoto has an interesting message – the ultimate source of major innovation is basic science, which has to be supported in both the public and private sectors. This is well worth of emulation in Sri Lanka. 

Major innovations have a disruptive influence to an economy. Having an approach of supporting incremental growth through simple projects cannot simply support the economy to grow in the way we want. ‘10% more to the last allocation’ mode of thinking and ‘every year is a different year for planning’ that takes away long-term plans and the ability to implement ‘moon landing’ projects are critical corrections needed within our planning and financing sphere. Think of the presence of Steve Jobs (then) and Leon Musk (now) to that particular economy. 

Think of the one billion dollar allocation to biotechnology by Cuba when they did not even have cars on their major road in the capital. The buzz generated for encouraging sustainable enterprise, entrepreneurship is very important in creating the spirit of enterprise and the dynamics for an economy. 

The penchant for protocol and adherence to outdated processes should give away for results seeking, action oriented, socially conscious, innovative mindsets. With the STS Forum Sri Lanka, the ministry of science technology and research has identified the need to embark on frontier science and championing science to the forefront in addressing our societal needs.

Considering the need for a change in approach the Forum has the view to introduce advanced technologies to Sri Lankan’s industries and infrastructure development programmes. The forum has received support from Sri Lankan scientists and researchers from abroad. 

Prof. Ravi Silva from UK has organised the forum partnership with United Kingdom – India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI). Prof Monte Cassim who is domiciled in Japan, an ex-Vice Chancellor of Ritusmeiken University of Japan has visions of supporting Sri Lanka in many ways. He championed the Sri Lankan forum from the beginning starting at the Japanese end. 

The Japan-Sri Lanka Innovation Platform (J-SLIP) is an ongoing concern he has promoted and there is a strong Japanese research as well as a business group he has marshalled to attend the STS Forum Sri Lanka. STS Forum Sri Lanka 2016 will also be graced by Koji Omi who is the Founder and Chairman of STS Forum Japan. There is technical session support from JAICA, WIPO, GIZ and Thomson Reuters. 


Main objectives

Thus the main objectives of the Forum are to; foster excellence in Science and Technology, enable equitable and inclusive development through STI, promote high-tech industries in Sri Lanka and integrate Sri Lankan industries into global value chain. It is obvious that these objectives are timely and are of extreme importance. 

The Forum will address themes such as (a) the role of Science and Technology in achieving Sustainable Development Goals, (b) Citizen Science (c) Capacity building in Science (d) Technology and Innovation (e) Funding and Investment in Science and Technology (f) Establishment of a Sri Lankan Innovation Platform and (g) Nanotechnology. In addition to the Opening day program there will be 4 Plenary Sessions, 21 Breakout sessions, and 04 Dialogues between Scientists and Industry. Clearly these would help in the preventing the nationally significant issue of brain drain too. 

As once Tony Blair the ex-Prime Minister of Britain stated in his address to the Royal Society with the title ‘Science Matters’: “Science is both internationally competitive and internationally collaborative. If we are to remain an innovative, forward-looking nation, we need to retain the capacity to do this work, both in our own and in collaboration with scientists in other nations.”

With the amount of haemorrhage that is taking place in our human capital, this too should be in our minds uppermost.


‘Colombo Resolution’

The STS Forum 2016 will end with the ‘Colombo Resolution’ which will voice the need for Incorporating STI for the Development strategies of the country. It will call for science to be considered as a central part of decision making and not a separate and an incidental part of national planning.

Shinzo Abe, PM of Japan in Kyoto, quoted Arthur C. Clarke’s comparison of advanced technologies similarity to magic and called for magicians to emerge from the scientific community to solve global problems. We too hope the STS Forum Sri Lanka 2016 to inspire ‘a greater number of magicians to captivate the Sri Lankan society’ to emerge from the Sri Lankan ST community. In that event the return on this particular investment would be magical too.

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