Marta Pérez Cusó, Economic Affairs Officer, United Nations ESCAP

By Chia Jie Lin

Women in GovTech 2018 Special Report.

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

My mission at United Nations ESCAP is to support governments across the Asia-Pacific region to adopt technology and innovation policies that enable economic growth and, more importantly, greater social outcomes and environmental sustainability. Historically, science, technology and innovation policy have primarily focused on supporting industrial development, economic growth and enhanced competitiveness.

At United Nations ESCAP, we want to make sure that innovation policies also contribute to social welfare. That technology and innovation are maximised to, for example, expand access to basic services like health, education and finance, to address national social problems like those faced by an ageing population, environmental degradation or climate change. We are also striving to promote innovation policies such that everyone sees benefits from public investments in science and technology.

For example, ESCAP has recently advised the Government of Cambodia in the drafting of their national science, technology and innovation policy. As a result of this work, the Government of Cambodia now speaks of inclusive development in their policy vision. If approved, the policy will seek that more women participate in scientific and technology activities. It will also enable smaller firms and entrepreneurs beyond Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, to have greater access to technology.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2018?

Over 2018, it has been very exciting to set up a programme that focuses on encouraging inclusive innovation. The programme will assist governments, academic institutions and other stakeholders to promote inclusive technology and innovation policies that leave no one behind.

Last August, we had a great regional consultation on this topic. Experts and governments across the Asia-Pacific region strongly supported a more inclusive technology and innovation policy agenda. As a result, ESCAP will be encouraging inclusive technology and innovation through a myriad of avenues: from promoting inclusive businesses and supporting innovation at the community level, to exploring how frontier technologies can deliver greater social outcomes.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2018, what would it be?

My piece of advice is: be ready to invest in partnerships. Partnering with other organisationsthat have complementary knowledge, networks and resources, helps to expand the impact of our work at the United Nations. Building partnerships is a complex and arduous endeavor. It requires mutual trust and patience. However, by joining forces we can have a greater developmental impact.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2019?

I am interested in how frontier technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can further support social outcomes. In 2019, in collaboration with Google and the Association of the Pacific Rim Universities, ESCAP will be supporting policy research on Artificial Intelligence for Social Good. Stay tuned!

What are your priorities for 2019?

Professionally, in 2019, I will focus on promoting more inclusive innovation, and my three priorities will be:
  • Support governments in southeast Asian countries adopt policies that promote inclusive business models. Inclusive businesses provide affordable goods and services, and income opportunities to people living at the base of the economic pyramid. In collaboration with iBAN, ESCAP will identify inclusive business models and aid governments to support their expansion and scale up.
  • Expand ARTNETonSTI, which is the Asia-Pacific research and training network on technology and innovation policy.
  • Explore further partnerships - whether with universities, governments or private firms - that can promote more inclusive technologies and innovation.
What is one skill that has helped you the most throughout the course of your career?

In my career, it is fundamental to be able to work in different contexts, with organisations and individuals that have different world views and motivations. At the United Nations ESCAP, we serve over 50 governments from countries at different stages of development, with various needs and priorities. We also engage with diverse partners – from private sector to academia and non-governmental organisations – all with different mindsets. Exploring the common ground and keeping focused on the essential mission of the United Nations has been critical to support sustainable development.

What advancements do you predict will happen in your field in the next ten years?

Citizens, researchers, businesses and governments are paying closer attention to the social impact that technologies and innovation have on their communities and in their countries. As interest in social outcomes increases, governments will be redoubling efforts to develop and negotiate technology and innovation policies that ensure everyone - including women, persons facing disabilities and rural communities - can fully participate and benefit from technology and innovation.

Coffee, yoga, music... what powers you through your day?

Running, strong cappuccino, and an inspiring conversation with a colleague or collaborator!