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Malaysia: Celebrating Five Years of South-South Cooperation for Science, Technology and Innovation

Scientists and policy makers from forty-two countries assembled in Kuala Lumpur on 22 May to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the International Centre for South-South Cooperation for Science, Technology and Innovation (ISTIC), a platform for knowledge sharing and capacity building under the auspices of UNESCO.

“The past dominance in science by a few countries is giving way to a multipolar, globalized and interconnected world, opening vast opportunities for collaboration,“ said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, at the opening of ISTIC’s Fifth Anniversary Conference. “At the same time, disparities remain persistent, between countries and within them. This context highlights the vital role of South-South cooperation, especially in science, technology and innovation.”

The idea of ISTIC was hatched during the Second South Summit of the Group of 77 and China in 2005, where the Doha Plan of Action requested UNESCO to support South-South cooperation. Since its launch in 2008, ISTIC has become a key player in assisting G77 countries to develop Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policies, mobilize intellectual resources and highlight best practices from the South.

“We are small, but we continue to harbor very big dreams,” said Dato Dr Lee Yee Cheong, Chairman of the governing board of ISTIC.

As a high middle-income country striving to attain high-income status, Malaysia has made science, technology and innovation a cornerstone of its development strategy. It invests 1.07% of its GDP in research and development, making it one of ASEAN’s leaders in this area.

“Our Ministry is supporting innovation enablers and aims to increase awareness of science innovation and scientific culture in our society,” said the Deputy Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, referring to his country’s quest to become a high income nation by 2020. More widely, he affirmed the need for STI policies and investment across developing countries to accelerate development.

 Dr Rosli Mohamed, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Education and Vice President of the National Commission of Malaysia for UNESCO, reiterated Malaysia’s commitment to support developing nations in reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. The Malaysia-UNESCO Cooperation Programme has been established to this end, and will mobilize local expertise to implement training and capacity building programs through its centres of excellence, including ISTIC. 

Two resources were launched at the opening of the ISTIC 5th Anniversary Conference: a Curriculum Document for Elective Course on History of Muslim STI in Malaysian Universities, and a mirror website of the French “Main à la Pâte” foundation, that aims to be a valuable resource and support for science teachers.

The previous day, the Director-General visited ISTIC’s premises and participated in a dialogue with members of the Malaysian Academy of Sciences on the role of science in shaping the 2015 agenda. Analyzing shortcomings of the MDGs, she drew attention to the importance of a stronger interface between science and policy, identifying development enablers and deeper consideration of the ethical dimension of development. The Malaysian government is on the verge of launching a national science, technology and innovation policy that will integrate applied and social sciences to address development challenges.

The Director-General commended ISTIC for "making a real difference in record time," thanked the Government for its leadership and for hosting ISTIC, and affirmed that "there is a thirst for cooperation in science, technology and innovation."