NEW YORK — As governments and civil society convened last week at the United Nations to monitor progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, they were able to look to the one target that has so far been achieved.
The new U.N. Technology Bank for least developed countries has been operational since 2017 — meeting SDG indicator 17.8 for a fully operational bank — and officially opened its doors in Gebze, Turkey last month.
The bank is already up against some challenges as the newest U.N. organization. It is still seeking a full-time managing director and conducting its initial assessment of 16 countries. It also lacks stable funding beyond the first five years.
Devex spoke with the bank’s acting managing director, Heidi Schroderus-Fox, to better understand how the bank operates, and why LDCs need a boost when it comes to their work in science, technology, and innovation.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you describe generally how the technology bank was established?
If you look at any of the important development agenda documents or the financing for development Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the establishment of the Technology Bank is one of the priorities [first called for in the 2011 Istanbul Programme of Action, and reaffirmed in the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda and SDG 17].
The Turkish prime minister made the offer that Turkey would host the so-called technology bank for LDCs, to help lift them out from poverty and really boost their development. Since 2011, it has been a very long process. There have been a lot of political negotiations within the U.N. on what it will look like, and what should be the priorities, and so on. It has not been easy, and finally in December of last year the president of the General Assembly decided that the Technology Bank will be established.
How does the bank actually work, in practice?
It’s important to understand, this is not a bank in the sense that it is loaning something to others. It is really an institution that provides services for LDCs, and provides help in boosting their work in technology and innovation.
The bank provides assistance for 47 LDCs and has a governing board — and we are about to hire a full-time managing director. Turkey has provided a brand new facility that has basically room for about 30 or so people.
We were given the mandate by the member states, but no money. So, it was quite a challenge with the idea of, how do you go about it to put together a completely new U.N. entity that needs to provide services for 47 countries to really make a difference. Also, how do you establish a new U.N. entity? All of these questions we had to think about. So it's been a very interesting few years putting this together from scratch.
How do explain the significance of the bank when describing it to unfamiliar people?
For LDCs, access to science, technology, and innovation is one of the key accelerators for development and one of the things where, if you look at all the data, LDCs are lagging the most. It can provide help on achieving most of the SDGs.
There are science and technology linkages on almost everything, so better access to technology, better understanding of their own technology — all of this will help take major steps to their development out of the LDC status. And you can look at countries that are about to graduate, or graduating — technology and innovation has been an important part of their path.
There are a lot of entities that have been working on related issues. And the idea is not that we would like to do everything from the beginning. But the work has been fragmented and has not had this LDC-specific focus.
How much money have you received in contributions to date?
One of the first things we did was to negotiate the host country agreement with Turkey, so Turkey is providing $2 million a year for the first five years. And they have mentioned that they are planning to possibly up their contribution as well. We have Norway, which has given quite a lot of money the first year, $1 million. Then we have a few smaller donors that also include some of the LDCs themselves.
How can governments, or other entities, access this funding?
The Technology Bank has a governing board that consists of very high-level experts from different parts of the world, and they, together with the managing director, put together a strategic plan of, ‘Where do we start?’
“This is not a bank in the sense that it is loaning something to others. It is really an institution that provides services for LDCs, and provides help in boosting their work in technology and innovation.”— Heidi Schroderus-Fox, acting managing director of the U.N. Technology Bank
At the moment, with the funding that we have, we are starting with two different fields of work. One of them is looking at science, technology, and innovation needs of LDCs. Each country's needs are unique, so we need to make sure of what is it that these LDCs need and what would be really transformative for them. A lot of baseline studies have already been made by other actors, such as UNCTAD, so we looked at the gaps.
The second field of work is providing digital access for scientists and researchers. Already in the first year we have 16 countries altogether who will partake in these studies. Once we get those going, then we can develop further programs based on the of results.
Are there particular issues you have noticed that are emerging, or persistent needs, in different LDCs?
Some of these are very basic things. One example is how to issue status[a], because there is a lot of indigenous technologies in these countries. But the scientists from LDCs have not been very successful in registering the status, so the bank can really provide assistance on how to do that — and how to support the indigenous technologies by scientists from LDCs as well.
These can be technologies that relate to agriculture, technologies that relate to water and sanitation, it can be communication and connectivity — with all of these fields LDCs’ needs are huge.
So you would provide technical assistance on these issues.
Yes, that’s the idea. And it's also taking a country and linking different existing programs and making sure that they connect, and that we can then bring some added value on linking certain technologies. And the idea is also to link up with the private sector, so during the inauguration we signed our first partnership agreement with something called the Global Good, which is a Bill and Melinda Gates related organization that helps LDCs in particular in the field of health.
Depending on what the outcome of the reports are, we would then work together with a country to see their needs and how they would best like to use the services of the bank. So the countries themselves are very much involved in the priorities of what services they would like to get out of the bank.
How much of an issue, or concern, is fundraising at this point?
Funding is, of course, extremely important. We have the initial five-year funding, but we have made an assessment that the bank, in order to be fully functional in all 47 LDCs, would need an annual funding of about $30 million. A very important part of the managing director's job will be making sure that these funds are available.