Canada’s innovation agenda should take a similar approach as is evident in other policy areas, such as climate change, migration and refugee policy, human rights, and Canada’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and take a stand on global justice, believes Prateek Awasthi, director of Policy, Advocacy and Community at Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Canada.“ It would be a strong signal of our values to make a public commitment to global justice in the context of Canada’s innovation agenda,” he says. “At EWB, our focus is on finding solutions that will end poverty and reduce inequality in our lifetime. We think there are at least three ways in which Canada’s innovation agenda could make a positive difference in the world.”
First, investments in innovation could have the explicit aim of promoting applications that can benefit international development. Advanced technologies are already being applied by social enterprises for social good, with astounding results, he explains. For example, one of the ventures EWB supports, M-Shule, uses machine learning to create personalized learning plans and exercises for primary school students in Kenya via SMS to improve academic performance. “On the flip-side, if these technologies are not shared, they will continue to increase the vast inequalities between developed and developing countries,” Mr. Awasthi cautions.
Second, strategic transfers of technology through the participation of universities and students could play a huge role in contributing to global development, while also building a generation of globally-minded entrepreneurs, he says. “Under the Volunteer Cooperation Programme of Global Affairs Canada, EWB already sends hundreds of university students to support local entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa. Building a strategic link with Canada’s Innovation Superclusters Initiative could allow these young Canadians to build bridges between Canadian companies and new and emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa that will be crucial for ending global poverty and building shared prosperity.”
Finally, if the most valuable outcome of the use of public funds is the intellectual property and its commercial applications that emerge, there ought to be some share of public ownership over them or for that technology – to be able to be licensed free of charge for public benefit, says Mr. Awasthi. “If government agencies, not-for-profit charities or multilateral institutions are able to use some of the technology for improving public health, promoting education or ending poverty through decent jobs, they should be able to do so without paying licensing fees.
“Canada’s innovation sector has tremendous potential to benefit Canadian industries and workers through jobs, goods and services, but it also has the potential to position Canada a global leader and ally on the world stage through knowledge transfer and partnerships with global countries and companies and through greater integration into our trade and development contributions,” he adds.
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