Comsats: An agent of change
The term Global South evolving from the Third World concept has gained much attention during the second half of the 20th century which has later appeared in many works and publications discussing the harsh realities of the developing world. The popularity of the term “marks a shift from a central focus on development and cultural difference” and emphasizes the importance of geopolitical relations (dados, nour; connell, raewyn (2012-01-01). “the global south”. )
For obvious reasons, there is a vast social, economic and political gap between the affluent North and the resource challenged countries of Global South. The development issues that most nations from the Global South confront are poverty, poor governance, mal-nutrition, poor health, dearth of educational facilities and lack of infrastructure for innovations in science and technology. In fact, capacity constraints of technological nature are holding back many countries of the South from participating in the process of economic integration for development. Development professionals attribute the impoverishment of the Global South to its own failure in adapting to the technological advancement taking place around the world. It is, therefore, greatly emphasized that developing nations must move from their present socio-economic societal structures towards adopting modern scientific regimes to harness their resources to pace up their economic progress.
It goes without saying that modern science and technology are the key drivers of development as scientific innovations reinforce economic progress and improve health and education, thereby bringing a qualitative change in the way people live, work, and interact with one another. According to Freeman John Dyson FRS, a British theoretical physicist and mathematician, “Technology is a gift of God. After the gift of Life, it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilization, of Arts and of Sciences. Technology continues to grow to liberate mankind from the constraints of the past”.
As such, it is highly imperative that the developing nations in the South take advantage of the transformative potential of the modern technological advancement. To benefit from this potential, the developing nations need to indigenize the transfer of technological knowledge and exploit the advanced technology assistance through enabling transnational cooperation. Towards this end, Comsats is trying to harness indigenous capacities in the South as a vehicle for growth and achieving sustainable development. By prioritising research and development in their development strategies and allocation of adequate resources, developing nations can greatly accelerate the pace of their economic advancement. Similarly, developing nations need to exploit the enormous potential for South-South and Triangular Cooperation in scientific fields to overcome the economic challenges of the 21st century.
The world is on the verge of the greatest transformation due to the evolving fourth industrial revolution (4IR) characterized by increased connectivity. In this respect, science and technology can greatly influence the sustainability challenges in the South by providing solutions and technology that provide greater opportunities for people to change their lives for the better. Development and application of the latest technologies like, Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, have tremendous potential to empower people in the social and economic spheres, including healthcare, transport, communication, industry, public safety, utilities, agriculture, education and even entertainment.
Moved by the economic deprivation of developing nations, the Noble Laureate, Dr. Abdus Salam conceived establishing international institutions to promote science and technology for the benefit of developing world. The world leaders readily subscribed to this great idea and created the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) in 1994 as an intergovernmental agency promoting cooperation to help achieve sustainable development in the South.
Since its inception, Comsats, as a development institution, has gone a long way in bridging the technological gap between the developed and developing countries through technical cooperation and introducing innovations in science and technology. It is praise worthy that during the course of its operations throughout the past 25 years, Comsats has made meaningful interventions at different levels in diverse scientific fields, primarily to help developing countries enhance their indigenous capacities in science and technology. In this endeavour, several Centres of Excellence consisting of top order scientific institutions (presently 22) and establishment of Integrated Thematic Research Groups (ITRGs) comprising of renowned scientists on varied thematic subjects in the member countries have continued to provide reinforcing leverage to the Commission’s scientific programmes and activities.
Comsats flagship initiatives lauded at very early stage of the organization, i.e., Comsats Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) now Comsats University Islamabad (CUI); COMSATS Internet Services and COMSATS Tele-health programme have developed into exemplary models worthy of emulation by other developing world. The Comsats Institute of Information Technology (CIIT), with a small beginning in 1998, has developed into a full-fledged Comsats University Islamabad (CUI) that portrays the dedicated efforts of the organization in promoting IT education in Pakistan. The University has since diversified its curricula and expanded its outreach to seven campuses in different parts of the country. It also hosts a large number of students from the member and non-member countries. Similarly, Comsats Tele-Health initiative (CTH), introduced as a pilot project in 2001, has developed into a regular programme and is now serving a large number of rural patients in remote areas of Pakistan. The Tele-health programme provides a very practical model to be replicated in other developing countries where health facilities are concentrated in urban areas. Another outstanding initiative of the Commission, namely, the Comsats Internet Service (CIS), which pioneered as an Internet Service Provider in Pakistan in 1996, is now fully functioning in its own building known as the CIS Technology Park. CIS provides a mix of eight services to its clients in 17 major cities of Pakistan.
Sustainable Development being the focus of Comsats mandate, the Commission has been at the forefront to create awareness among the stakeholders on the UN 2030 Agenda, and assist the member countries implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Commission believes in a holistic approach that encompasses advocacy and purposeful discourse at different levels aimed at promoting and realizing the SDGs. With this objective in view, Comsats is attempting to elicit effective commitment on the part of academic community to identify the strengths, gaps, priorities, and opportunities with respect to SDGs implementation. For this purpose, Comsats has so far organised two seminars and lectures to engage academia in meaningful partnerships with governments and communities in pursuing the UN 2030 Agenda. The organization has also undertaken meaningful initiatives towards bringing improvements in the fields of agriculture and biotechnology, rural development, climate change and environment, capacity building, education and training, and institutional cooperation. These initiatives have resulted in a positive impact on development policies and practice at the field level in the member states.
Transnational cooperation; particularly the South-South-North Triangular Cooperation, can greatly assist in solving the development problems of the Global South. Towards this end, Comsats has been making all-out efforts to promote scientific and economic cooperation between the South-South as well as the South-South-North to help realize the benefits of the excellent opportunities of cooperation in science and technology.
In view of the Commission’s growing role as a promoter of technological development, Comsats’ network has expanded to 27 Member States with 22 Centres of Excellence having representation from important scientific organizations across the world. The growing interest in the Network’s membership echoes the trust and confidence of the developing countries in the Comsats’ ability to put developing nations on the trajectory of sustainable development in line with the UN 2030 Agenda.
The Organization is fondly looking forward to expand its Network, as it would open up great opportunities for developing countries to share their experiences and knowledge for mutual benefit. The Commission is actively supporting South-South Cooperation, which is necessary to improve national well-being and self-reliance in developing nations. Towards this end, the organization is constantly attuning its programmes and activities in line with the development needs of the member states to facilitate their fast track economic progress through harnessing their scientific capacities and human resource.
The organization with its strong reputation in Science Diplomacy and Advocacy, owes a lot the Government of Pakistan for its unwavering support since inception. The political guidance from the 26 other member states is also a source of strength for the organization’s operations.
Despite financial and resource limitations, Comsats has been able to make a niche in the scientific communities and development agencies across the developing world and establish itself as an “Agent of Change”. This splendid accomplishment has been possible due to the generous support of all the collaborating institutions and individuals associated with our activities. The Commission is looking forward to an active policy and action oriented response and effective international cooperation, particularly South-North-South Triangular cooperation to fulfil the organization’s mandate.
The author is a development economist with vast experience in policy analysis, project management, monitoring, evaluation, report writing and editing. He has contributed to various volumes of the Jinnah Papers as a senior Editor. He has also served as speechwriter to the ex-President and Prime Ministers of Pakistan. He is also associated with Comsats as a Consultant.