Is the BRICS Think Tanks Council (BTTC) serving its purpose as a reservoir of ideas for BRICS leaders? This was the challenge set by Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, at the opening of the 10th BRICS Academic Forum.
The Forum, which brings together top academia from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) to propose actionable solutions to some of the developing world’s most pressing socio-economic challenges, took place at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg between 28 and 31 May.
South Africa, which holds the BRICS Chairship in 2018, set the agenda for this year’s Forum, choosing to focus on the theme of Envisioning inclusive development through a socially responsive economy.
“South Africa is not a poor country, but an unjust one and it’s up to us right those injustices,” commented Professor Ari Sitas, Chairman of the South African BRICS Think Tank.
The theme of injustice was particularly evident in the first panel which focused on gender and inequality in BRICS countries.
As Gao Hao, from the China delegation pointed out, inclusivity is beneficial not just for women but for the economy as well. “Research shows that if gender equality and women’s empowerment are realised in most countries, the global GDP bonus will reach 28 trillion dollars,” she said.
However, the obstacles to gender equality are significant. In Brazil, for example, women dedicate a high number of weekly hours to unpaid domestic work and care, reducing the number of hours they are able to invest in paid labour, explained Joana Mostafa from the Brazilian delegation.
She said that a scheme to empower women which has seen considerable success in Brazil is the ‘Bolsa Familia’ Conditional Cash Transfer programme, which allows for cash transfers to be sent directly to the Mother of the family. The result said Mostafa is that 48% of Bolsa women feel more financially independent and 38% feel more respected by their partners.
“As a way of responding to some of these challenges, we propose the establishment of a Forum on Women’s Inclusion. This Forum will help identify the obstacles to inclusivity in the BRICS domain,” said Professor Sitas.
Universal Health Coverage
Another highlight was the discussion around how universal health coverage (UHC) can be achieved in the BRICS countries. It began by addressing the elephant in the room, which is that the developing world still has a long way to go in terms of ending epidemics such as AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria by 2030.
Aquina Thulare, from the South African delegation, pointed out, for example, that of the 911 million instances of TB globally, 423 million happen in BRICS countries.
“We haven’t looked at the real causes of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB),” Thulare said, maintaining that if BRICS countries continue to accept the drugs foisted on them by large pharmaceutical companies as solutions to the TB epidemic, all that we will achieve is people who are resistant to drugs currently used to fight MDR-TB.
André de Mello e Souza from the Brazilian delegation agreed, adding that global pharmaceutical companies do not favour the BRICS manufacturing environment.
As a practical way of driving change, Thulare suggested that together BRICS countries develop a holistic knowledge sharing platform for crowd collaboration and to promote innovation. The platform would also then help to attract funding for popular ideas gaining traction.
With this in mind the BTTC, is proposing a vaccine research platform to respond to both communicable and non-communicable research challenges.
Strengthening Education and Science
An important question was posed by Russia during the discussion around leveraging the collective strengths of the BRICS nations in the education, scientific and productive sectors. Leonid Grigoryev of the Russian delegation said it’s critical to ask whether we are producing innovations or importing them.
This was taken a step further by Thaiane Oliveira from Brazil who pointed out that while the combined scientific research outputs from BRICS countries was 1382, only 288 of these were open access.
She therefore suggested that BRICS countries might need to invest in more open access platforms to improve the visibility of their scientific research.
The greater need for building collaborations and synergies in the cognitive sciences was emphasised by Varun Sahni from the Indian delegation who pointed out that challenges such as climate change and water scarcity cannot be solved by science and technology alone.
“In response to these challenges, the BTTC will propose a series of initiatives, such as the creation of a BRICS Astrophysics and Space Research Scientific Committee; and a joint R&D Research Platform,” noted Professor Sitas.
Promoting Energy Research
In order to limit temperature increases to 2°C, investment in low-carbon power generation and energy efficiency would need to increase by three to seven times, according to the International Energy Agency.
This was the statistic with which Jaya Josie of the South African delegation set the scene of current challenges to the uptake of green energy in BRICS. More innovative financing mechanisms are needed, he commented.
Aparajit Pandey, from the Indian delegation, argued that international banking regulations suppress financial flows of funding for climate change. Ultimately, he believes that BRICS countries must push for reform in global financial institutions.
To begin leveraging change, the SABTT recommends launching a BRICS Energy Research Platform to provide key information for strategic planning of activities of governmental structures, local authorities and enterprises of the BRICS countries.
“In the end a multitude of entities were proposed – centres, institutes, networks, platforms, programmes, hubs and committees, as well as a forum to monitor the implementation of the agreements within BRICS in order to identify urgent areas of necessary intervention,” concluded Professor Sitas.
The BTTC will be submitting its full list of 20 recommendations along with those discussed during other panels at the Forum for the BRICS leader’s consideration.