Mia Mikic, Director of Trade, Investment and Innovation Division, UN ESCAP

By Yun Xuan Poon

Women in GovTech Special Report 2019.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens' lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

I am heading the Trade, Investment, and Innovation Division of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). ESCAP is part of the United Nations (UN) secretariat. It is working with 58 Asia-Pacific countries and territories on their aspirations to improve all peoples' lives through the delivery of Sustainable Development Goals – the universal plan adopted by 193 countries in 2015 to be delivered by 2030. The plan includes complex and interdependent goals, including eliminating poverty and hunger, cleaning our air, oceans, and land, co-existing in peace and many others.

In order to implement such an ambitious plan, countries will need to have resources at their disposal. Such resources include both financial and non-financial, systemic, and other resources. The areas my division is responsible for all belong to the key means of implementation: investment is the financial one, while trade and innovation cum technology belong to non-financial means of implementation.

Through our engagement in technology and innovation, we support governments of our member States in the region to adopt technology, innovation policies and associated regulatory frameworks to improve economic prosperity, without compromising social fairness or environmental responsibility.

How do we do that? We engage in diverse activities, from capacity building and peer-to-peer learning for governments and other stakeholders, research and analytical work, and policy advice to supporting regional cooperation and linking regional needs to global initiatives such as the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism and the Technology Bank.

For example, we joined forces with China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, and our colleagues from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York to bring over 30 officials from as many countries to a training course focusing on creating an enabling environment for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for the SDGs. The course explored different platforms and mechanisms for STI collaborations among states, and studied emerging STI concepts, opportunities and challenges as we move towards 2030.

In addition to the above - if you wish for direct impact through the design of STI policies- we work with governments and businesses enabling them to use technological advances in making trade and investment more effective means of sustainable development.

For example, through innovative business models such as social enterprise and impact investment. This year, we delivered a successful programme of promoting inclusive business for ASEAN countries, and we issued multiple grants on promoting the use of FinTech to support women's entrepreneurship and improve their economic empowerment. Furthermore, we work on using blockchains and application of digital technologies for trade procedures (like in customs and similar areas) to reduce cross-border transaction costs and enable SMEs, especially in poorer countries, to engage in regional and global trade.

What has been the most exciting thing that you and your team worked on in 2019?

I want to point to two exciting achievements of my team. One was the first-ever co-publication between ESCAP and a private sector company. Together with Google, we published a report on "AI in the Delivery of Public Services."

The report presented case studies from several countries on how governments and the public sector have applied AI to deliver public services, offering beneficial insights on how the government can leverage advanced technologies for better public service delivery.

The second exciting achievement is the launch of the first phase of project TINA. TINA stands for Trade Intelligence and Negotiation Advisor and is an interactive web-based tool to assist countries in the negotiation of trade agreements. The ultimate objective is to enhance trade in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The novelty of this tool is in our attempt in using (still only minimally) supervised machine learning.

What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?

My career is long, so it is difficult to pinpoint one thing. I think, looking back, it might be the fact that I never had to ask myself if I chose the right area, the discipline of work. I have always felt I am working on issues that are relevant and important for development.

At the midpoint of my career, I moved from academia to an international civil servant, which enhanced my ability to contribute positively to policy design and policymaking processes. I guess this adds to one's belief of "being in the right place."

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2019, what would that be?

I can't say I learned this in 2019, but I can undoubtedly confirm I have depended on it in 2019, as I have many times in my career- the value of networking and partnerships. This and choosing your battles carefully, allowing you to focus on what is essential and has a more significant impact, and not waste your energy on transitory and small problems.

What tool or technique particularly interests you in 2020?

For sure, it is related to how to increase the "machine learning" content in our tool TINA.

What are your priorities for 2020?

I have several, but I think my primary priority for 2020 has to be to lift off the ground an initiative linked to the community of knowledge I coordinate called ARTNeT. It aims to improve the number and influence of women in policymaking in areas labeled as means of implementation – that is, trade, investment and technology, and innovation. The initiative is called Women-in-ARTNeT, with the ultimate goal of bringing gender parity to ARTNeT.

What is one challenge you would like to take on in 2020?

Consume less of everything by taking more time for leisure. Also to reduce my personal and my division’s carbon footprint, and to introduce 100% carbon offsets in our work-related travel.

What has been your fondest memory from the past year?

Personally, it was finding out that my daughter was offered a paid full-time position very much in line with what she outlined as her dream job. In this era, when millennials are struggling with getting stable and decent employment, this news was particularly welcome.

Professionally, it has been several "first off" results achieved with my team - gives me energy and strengthens my optimism that even with less funding, we can deliver good influential work.