Inclusive innovation for more equitable development

When the Emerging and Developing Economies Network (EDEN) launched its EDEN Seminars recently, the first topic up for discussion was the development of the Japan-Sri Lanka collaborative platform and Dignified Pacific Initiative, which aims to empower communities in the Pacific region.

The EDEN Seminars are held at Shizenkan University, Nihonbashi campus in Japan. They are public seminars where the diverse audience discusses development issues on the theme of challenging the current global paradigm of development and proposes solutions to present challenges.

In particular, the first seminar looked at the issue of exclusion, which is fuelling popular discontent, leading to heightened intolerance, populism and the breakdown of civil order in many parts of the world and how this can be countered.

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The seminar focused on the concept of ‘inclusive innovation’, which mobilises advances in science and technology from developed nations such as Japan to help solve pressing problems in emerging and developing countries; and reciprocity and generosity as the basis of development cooperation among nations and territories.

Redirected towards ‘well-being’

The latter is an approach under which development goals are redirected towards ‘well-being’ and involves ‘well giving’ towards the good of others, and sustainable development is to be achieved while preserving the traditions and cultural values of developing countries.

The seminars celebrate the focus on the close relationship between universities of the Ritsumeikan Trust (Ritsumeikan University and Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University) and Shizenkan University in Japan in working with partners in Sri Lanka and the Pacific Islands.

The seminar series is sponsored by the Ritsumeikan Trust and Shizenkan University and focuses in particular on the Japan-Sri Lanka Innovation Platform (J-SIP), which has been formed under the patronage of the Graduate School of Leadership and Innovation, Shizenkan University, Japan.

The platform focuses on science and technology-led development and operates under a broader initiative, the Japan-Sri Lanka Joint Comprehensive Partnership (J-SCP), established after the visit of the Sri Lankan prime minister to Japan in October 2015.

The J-SCP aims to strategise the bilateral relationship between the two countries, based on five themes – promotion of investment and trade, cooperation on Sri Lanka’s National Development Plan, national reconciliation and peace-building, maritime cooperation and human resources and people to people exchange.

Shizenkan’s Graduate School of Leadership and Innovation was established in 2018 and offers majors in leadership and innovation by bringing diverse nationalities into the student body and faculty, making the higher education institution a beacon in Japan’s commitment to globalise university study.

Its vision is to strive for a “paradigm shift in leadership and management education” and contribute to a “more sustainable, inclusive society” by “leveraging innovation in science and technology for the betterment of humanity”.

Universities as drivers of change

The project is headed by Dr Monte Cassim, a scientist and Sri Lankan long-term resident in Japan. He has focused his research activities on bringing innovation in rural development in the fields of agriculture and energy, and explained that the Japan-Sri Lanka Innovation Platform is a dynamic example of the role of universities as the drivers of change in these sectors.

The first steps have been taken to establish a centre in the national University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka and Shizenkan. The collaboration, in the form of a regional cluster campus within the University of Peradeniya, falls under the concept of mobilising capital from Japan for research towards economic growth, social transformation, combating climate change, peace-building and disaster prevention, among other fields.

“Projects in the Sri Lanka forum are beyond this campus and support sharing technical development in similar environments. As a start, the focus is on a modality that can be shared with the Pacific Islands, where the problems are similar to Sri Lanka.” Cassim says.

Inclusive innovation as a goal in university laboratories addresses problems in developing or emerging economies by leveraging advanced technological solutions.

It was a concept announced two decades ago at international level that was crystallised under two key projects. The first is earth-friendly innovation focusing on agricultural adaptation to climate change through agro-photonics. The other important landmark addresses human-friendly innovation countering debilitating diseases, including Alzheimer’s, through research on mind-brain relationships.

Under this concept the Japan-Sri Lanka platform addresses problems through improved technologies to mitigate risk. The project aims at dramatic cost reduction, knowledge integration, traceability systems, and human expert cloud services, among others.

Cassim presented a paper on exploring body-mind brain synergies under critical care medicine and identified an implementation schedule, starting with preparing a lab environment in universities and conducting experiments and preparing a database design in 2019.

In 2020 the experiments will continue, as will data analysis and a dialogue with stakeholders described as citizen science. In 2021 there will be conferences and development of products such as a massage chair as a prototype.

Crucial bridge to equitable development

Cassim, the driver of the bilateral project, says that inclusive innovation is crucial as a bridge to equitable and sustainable development and facilitates lasting technological change.

A pilot model technology project is now being implemented in Sri Lanka, which includes, for example, the development of innovative technology for the ubiquitous three-wheelers or tuk tuks, which is the main mode of transport for lower-income communities.

Research shows the growing need for electrification of the vehicle following the introduction of new taxes on the importation of fossil-fuelled tuk tuks in 2018, as part of a wider strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Sri Lankan government is seeking to encourage a shift of the entire 1.5 million fleet of tuk tuks to electricity by 2045.

Bilateral innovation currently focuses on transformation of the vehicle into a smart mobile space through the introduction of beta-prototype next-generation vehicle registered for Japanese roads in 2016.

The vision for 2025 is a three-wheeler that will be battery operated and aimed at promoting self-entrepreneurship in rural Sri Lanka.

The other major platform is the Greater Kandy Urban plan – Kandy is a historic city in the centre of Sri Lanka and home to one of the most sacred places of worship in the world for Buddhists. Under the plan, an advanced agro-medical hub and an international medical tourism strategy will be developed with the goals of achieving sustainable health targets and advanced agriculture.

Challenge of an ageing population

A case in point is exchanges between Japan and Sri Lanka on ageing population that now poses a challenge in both countries. In Japan life expectancy is 85 years (females 89, males 83) compared to 75 in Sri Lanka (females 79, males 73). The research collaboration will be in non-communicable diseases – such as cancer, cardiac arrest, stroke and dementia.

There will also be collaboration on prevention of lifestyle diseases through research into exercise, food and drink, social interaction, mental stimulus and leisure such as hobbies; and informed self-medication.

The joint platform funds are based on public-private partnership solutions – Japanese companies, local government and national universities working with their Sri Lankan counterparts.

The bilateral partnership is also based on the development of modular design, communication of protocols and standards, knowledge integration, and traceability systems. Field informatics stations designed as technology drivers will be set up in Kyoto and Peradeniya.

Focusing on innovation means adapting Japanese technology to local needs by aligning the strategic interests of Japan and Sri Lanka.

Cassim explains that the newly launched initiative, which is bilateral and aimed at sharing regionally, is an important means of addressing inequality in the donor platform, referring to international aid that is not locally driven.

Moreover, he pointed out, universities under the inclusive innovation platform can drive knowledge by acting as incubators for future growth. “Universities engage in the world, expanding their outreach from students to the world,” he said.