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ISTIC global platform for South-South cooperation
Published on: Saturday, August 13, 2016

By Datuk Seri Madius Tangau

Developing countries have often been encouraged to assist each other in various fields of development – political, economic, social, environmental and technical in order to meet development goals as well as improve well-being of its people.

Science, technology and innovation (STI) is recognised as a major vehicle in promoting development and uplifting economic and social standards.

Not many knew about the role played by Malaysia as the forefront in assisting other developing countries under the Malaysia Technical Cooperation Programme under her “Prosper Thy Neighbours” international policy.

Consequently Unesco invited Malaysia to host The International Science, Technology and Innovation Centre for South-south Cooperation (ISTIC) in 2006.

This is how ISTIC was initiated and would be completely funded by Malaysia.

It came about during the second Summit of the Group of China+G77 developing countries in Doha 2005, when the Summit requested Unesco to balance its programmes on the supply side of Science and Technology with more programmes on the demand side for the direct benefit of people in the developing world.

ISTIC (www.istic-unesco.org) was formally established in 2008 under the auspices of Unesco through an agreement signed between the government of Malaysia, represented by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti), whereas Unesco was represented by its Director – General. ISTIC was set up to provide a platform for developing countries on STI programmes under the ground in human capital capacity building on the “training the trainers” fashion.

Its priority programmes are STI Policy formulation and implemention; Women in STI; Technopreneurship, Maintenance of Infrastructure; Accreditation and Certification of Engineers and Technicians to international engineering education standards; and Inquiry Based Science Education or STEM education programme for science and maths teachers, the final of which is also my passion.

In line with Mosti’s mission of “Explore, develop and utilise STI to generate knowledge, create wealth and ensure societal wellbeing towards achieving a competitive, sustainable and inclusive high income economy”, ISTIC in collaboration several agencies published a primer on STI Policy authored by Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Datuk Dr. Omar Abdul Rahman.

This now forms the foundation of the STI Policy and Management programmes for ISTIC, where Malaysia has exported to numerous countries.*

As ISTIC is completely funded by Malaysia, it has considerable autonomy. All Unesco requires is ISTIC programmes are generally aligned with Unesco STI policies.

ISTIC receives funding from the government of Malaysia through MOSTI for its operations and programmes.

ISTIC has a Governing Board that oversees the strategic direction and approves its programme and finances. Since its inception in 2006, the board was chaired by Academician Dato’ Ir Lee Yee Cheong who recently handed over to Dr. Samsudin Tugiman in May 2016.Board members comprise 25 renowned experts from developing countries and eight from developed countries.

Membership from the developed countries is crucial in providing up-to-date developments in STI that can benefit the South countries.

The board recently appointed Dato’ Ir. (Dr.) Lee Yee Cheong as ISTIC’s Honorary Chairman.

ISTIC is also guided by the STI Advisory Council which provides the Governing Board with technical advice for the planning, execution, review and monitoring of the programmes.

In terms of administration, ISTIC is headed by a director and is assisted by four staff who are responsible for the office administration, information technology, public relations and the various training programmes.

The Academy of Sciences Malaysia hosts ISTIC and provides administrative support.

ISTIC’s role in science diplomacy
Through ISTIC’s programmes, Malaysia established good connections with Argentina, Korea, Indonesia, France, Hungary, India, Iran, Kenya, Khazakstan, Myanmar, Sudan, Nigeria, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago and Kuwait by holding training courses and events in these countries.

They are conducted on a cost-sharing basis in which ISTIC or the host country will bear the local cost, whilst participants pay for their travel expenses. ISTIC also gives priority to applications from Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.

However a recurring problem is the small number of participation amongst these countries due to the lack of funds to support their travel expenses.

In line with UNESCO’s emphasis on gender equality and women’s empowerment, ISTIC ensures that women are well represented in its programmes.

ISTIC is actively working with the Unesco Director General to have a Gender Equality Action Plan for each of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Just last month for example, ISTIC provided training workshops specifically to develop leadership talents of women in STI that coached participants in leadership, communication and entrepreneurship. 25 participants from 15 countries working in the middle to high level management of research ceentres and universities participated.

They were from Malaysia, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Syria.

ISTIC continues to be relevant
While the centre became operational in 2009, a review of the centre was conducted in 2013, five years after ISTIC was established. The review assessed ISTIC’s performance and suitability to continue as a category II centre, which denotes that it is legally not administered directly by Unesco.

The positive outcome of the study resulted in the signing of a second agreement between the Director-General of Unesco, H.E Irina Bokova, and I. With this signing, ISTIC continues to operate as a Unesco Centre and in promoting collaborations for developing countries until 2021.

ISTIC has proven to be an asset to the Government of Malaysia. This was expressed in the speech of Her Excellency the Director-General of Unesco last April at an event of ours,“Let me take this opportunity to say again how grateful I am for extraordinary work led by ISTIC to advance science, technology and innovation and promote South-South cooperation– always with a special focus on empowering women, …… I have seen ISTIC be essential or more inclusive and sustainable development today”.

ISTIC has built up a cohort of “friends of Malaysia” in most developing countries, enhancing Malaysia’s visibility on the world map.

In the era of new economy, we would be living in an age of limits, with depleting natural resources.

STI must be more inclusive to empower scientists and policymakers globally to find solutions in energy, climate change, water management, diseases, poverty eradication and even peace.

I see the role of science diplomacy such as the one played by ISTIC an essential bridge to address these challenges together.

Indeed ISTIC has done Malaysia proud.

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