SINCE adoption of the Brundtland Commission’s Report “Our Common Future” (1987) by the UN, sustainable development has become the central theme in development planning across the world. The Report stated, “that critical global environmental problems were primarily the result of the enormous poverty of the South and the non-sustainable patterns of consumption and production in the north.” The Commission, therefore, called for devising a strategy that would integrate development with the environment, leading to sustainable development. The Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Hence, sustainable development refers to achieving economic growth without affecting the quality of life for future generations. The concept of sustainable development has gained much attention during the past few decades as an effective approach towards poverty alleviation, socio¬-economic justice, social and economic development and environmental protection, while conserving natural resources through their judicious and systematic use.
In the context of globalization, developing countries in the Global South are at a cross road in their drive towards achieving socio-economic progress on sustainable basis. Development theorists attribute the pervasive social and economic inequalities across the Global South to its own failure in making use of the modern science and technology and suggest that it is high time for the South to participate in economic progress resulting from the contemporary scientific and technological advancement. Accordingly, it was decided to launch a Network of Centres of Excellence (COEs) on the eve of the 10th Anniversary of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), Italy, at the COMSATS’ Foundation Meeting, which was convened by the then Prime Minster of Pakistan, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, in Islamabad, in October 1994. The main purpose behind designating various Centres of Excellence was to integrate developing countries in economic, technological and social spheres and enhance their technical and human capacity towards eliminating poverty, hunger and environmental degradation.
The COMSATS’ Network of CoEs comprises top class S&T/R&D and higher education institutions that are representative of the growing technical and human capital in the developing countries. The Network is based on the concept of the International Network of Centres of Excellence operating under the aegis of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). However, unlike CGIAR, the respective member countries own as well as support COMSATS’ CoEs to facilitate their operations. These Centres, working as nodal points, provide a leading role in their respective areas of specialization. The heads of the Centres meet at the platform of COMSATS Coordinating Council, which reviews and evaluates the Network programmes and activities during its annual meetings. These meetings provide the CoEs with an opportunity to share knowledge, expertise and experiences with other members of the Network. It is encouraging that since its inception, the Network has expanded to 22 Centres of Excellence in 20 developing countries of the South, 19 of which hold COMSATS’ membership. The Network acts as a backbone providing the Organization with an operational mechanism for the promotion of science and technology through capacity building and technical cooperation. Each Centre is working in complete unison with COMSATS, seeking to accelerate the pace of economic progress towards achieving sustainable development. The CoEs endeavour to attract talent, reduce brain-drain and facilitate transfer of technology within Network. The Network follows an all-inclusive framework of activities that encompasses conferences and symposia, training workshops and joint research activities on a diverse range of subjects of scientific nature.
It goes without saying that science, technology and innovation can turn around the destiny of the people in the developing world through addressing their pressing development issues. In order to liberate themselves from poverty, hunger and disease and preserve the benefits of development for future generations, developing nations need to incorporate technological innovation in their strategic plans. The compulsions of globalization also suggest the need for technological advancement as the world is fast approaching the fourth industrial revolution. COMSATS together with its Centres of Excellence is making significant contributions in the diffusion of knowledge, skills and practices to enable developing nations respond to the emerging development issues. However, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seems a difficult challenge for the resource constrained and technologically less advanced South. In this backdrop, COMSATS believes that the “Common Future” of the South can be turned into a more prosperous, equitable and more secure region through the growth that reverses the ever increasing trends of environmental decay, poverty and depletion of natural resources. COMSATS also believes that such growth is essential to solve some of the greatest challenges of humanity. In this respect, adoption of technology as an engine of growth through indigenous innovation is a challenge that requires a more instructive and closer relationship among the developing as well as the developed nations backed by increased technical and scientific cooperation. COMSATS is serving this purpose through its Network by implementing projects and programmes of mutual interest. Undoubtedly, through collective efforts for promoting and adopting S&T, South can achieve sustainable development that would lead to economic prosperity of current and future generations.
— The writer is a former speech writer of President/PM & currently a freelance columnist.