UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova praised Sri Lanka’s commitment to harnessing the power of science, technology and innovation (STI) for development during a dialogue with the scientific community, in Colombo on 16 August, 2016.
In the presence of the Honorable Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Science, Technology and Research, she outlined the need for science to be more connected, integrated into policy making and geared towards poverty alleviation, environmental protection and coping with the impact of climate change.
“Progress has no meaning if it only benefits the few – if it doesn’t eliminate poverty, reduce inequalities, protect the world we live in. Science, technology and innovation is vital for the creation of knowledge, vital for economic growth, for the sustainability of all development,” she said.
Minister Premajayantha said that STI is a priority for the Government because it is the backbone of the knowledge-based economy that Sri Lanka aims to establish, through investment in research and development, human capacity, infrastructure and the popularization of science to change mindsets.
“Schools and universities have a great responsibility in this area and public-private partnerships are essential to enhance a culture of innovation in Sri Lanka. Our duty is to popularize science especially among school children and undergraduates,” affirmed the Minister.
The government has established a Ministry for sustainable development and wildlife that will improve alignment with the SDGs and identify priority areas for progress. The Minister highlighted the ambition to set up a National Science Centre, noting that Sri Lanka was the only country in the region lacking one, a project to which the Director-General pledged UNESCO’s support. Reflecting the ambition to place STI at the centre of the development agenda, he drew attention to the first STI forum being convened next month in Sri Lanka, which will draw more than 700 scientists from around the world. Sri Lanka’s position has significantly increased its position on the Global Innovation Index and is among the leading countries in the regional ranking.
The Director-General stressed the vital importance of investment in risk reduction, thanking Sri Lanka for cooperation in setting up the tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean, launched in 2012. Identifying opportunities for reinforced cooperation, she encouraged Sri Lankan scientists to participate actively in UNESCO networks, including on water management that is vital for agriculture and the sustainable development of natural resources, as well as the UNITWIN programme to encourage intellectual exchange.
UNESCO’s partnership with Sri Lanka encompasses capacity building to protect biodiversity, education for sustainable development and science teaching in schools, the promotion of awareness on coastal marine environmental change through the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, water security, and strengthening the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. With four Biosphere Reserves, the Director-General commended Sri Lanka’s efforts to deepen the connections between science, society and the environment.
Outlining Sri Lanka’s cooperation with UNESCO, the Secretary-General of the National Commission, Ms Dhammika Wijaysinge, also underlined the need to recognize, preserve and promote traditional scientific knowledge, from hydrology to medicine, as an asset for the future.
During a discussion moderated by Professor Samantha Hettiarachchi, the audience raised issues aboutfunding for science research, the role of the private sector in innovation, how to break the isolation of Sri Lankan scientists and encourage scientific careers.
The event was also attended by Ms R. Wijialuchumi, Secretary of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research and Professor Sirimali Fernando, Chairperson of the National Science Foundation.