Were it not for the constraints of time and geography, this week’s summit of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa would have taken place on the chilly plains of the Karoo.
For there is probably be no more fitting place to hold the 10th BRICS Summit than in the shadow of Meerkat, the world’s biggest and most sensitive radio telescope for space observation. The telescope, which will form part of the Square Kilometre Array, is more than a demonstration of Africa’s technological prowess. As it examines the history of the universe, the Meerkat is writing our future.
It is this future – of technology, innovation and inclusive development – that will dominate deliberations at the BRICS Summit, to be held in Johannesburg on 25-27 July 2018.
As the host country, South Africa has chosen to focus on collaboration for inclusive growth and shared prosperity in the fourth industrial revolution. This theme reflects the core priorities developed in the first decade of the BRICS Forum. The five countries have committed themselves to the creation of inclusive development by advancing global partnerships based on mutual benefit and openness. They have been working together to address common challenges that will bring prosperity to all humankind.
As technological change accelerates, as the fourth industrial revolution begins to reshape economies and redefine the nature of work, the BRICS countries have recognised the need for greater cooperation in science, technology and innovation.
Last year, they adopted the BRICS Action Plan for Innovation Cooperation, which stressed innovation as a key to global sustainable development as it unlocks human potential through entrepreneurship, job creation and economic growth.
Among the areas on which BRICS countries have agreed to cooperate are innovation advancement and technology transfer, science parks and incubators, and the application of geospatial technology. Through these agreements, the BRICS countries have set themselves on a path to realise the empowerment of our countries in the next phase of global economic development.
As it assumes the chairship of BRICS, South Africa is aiming to consolidate the progress over the last few years by establishing a framework on the Fourth Industrial Revolution that is geared towards support for industrialisation and sustainable development.
However, many developing countries, particularly on our continent, do not have the underlying skills and infrastructure to be able to compete at a global level. Some of our partners in BRICS have successfully confronted these challenges and there is much that we can gain from their experiences. They have adopted industrial and regulatory policies that support the development of high speed internet infrastructures and secure data spaces.
One of the main economic and social challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a possible increase in inequality, driven by the substitution of automation for labour, displacing workers and exacerbating the gap between returns to capital and returns to labour. Training and educational policies therefore must be put in place to support the development of new skills, including re-training of existing employees.
In this rapidly changing global economy, our countries must invest in the development of young scientists to reap the economic and social benefits of The Fourth Industrial Revolution. The architecture of the next industrial revolution must be inclusive. The citizens of the developing economies should not be treated only as consumers of technology, but pathways must be open for them to participate also as developers and managers of innovation.
If we contribute to setting the global science agenda, then the solutions that technology produces will be able to advance our specific developmental interests. This requires the concerted development of human scientific capital.
Sustainable global development needs intensified dialogue among all nations and committed engagement to work together. No country or research group can work or succeed alone. Resources need to be pooled and expertise shared.
The BRICS Forum is an ideal platform for this type of collaboration. It brings together countries with differing levels of technological and scientific capabilities, each with something to contribute to a collective effort. The opportunities for the exchange of ideas, technology and skills are limitless. As the BRICS Forum enters the second decade of its existence it must place the potential of technology for inclusive development at the centre of its agenda. In doing so, it will ensure that it remains relevant and that it makes a significant and lasting impact on the lives of its 3.1 billion citizens.
By President Cyril Ramaphosa