South Africa: Minister Naledi Pandor – International Conference On Research Infrastructure

Minister Pandor's welcome speech at the International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI), Cape Town International Convention Centre

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome all delegates to the 2016 International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI) and to Cape Town, South Africa. Welcome. This year's event is special. It will be the first time the ICRI, which over the years has unarguably become the leading global forum for policy and strategy discussions on research infrastructures, will be hosted outside Europe. We are proud that this landmark event will be hosted in Africa. It's appropriate recognition of our continent's growing commitment to science and technology, and participation in global research and innovation partnerships.

The South African Department of Science and Technology and our National Research Foundation greatly value the opportunity to present the 2016 Conference in partnership with the European Commission, specifically its Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, with which we enjoy an historic, strategic partnership. This year 2016 marks the twentieth anniversary of the signature of the South Africa-European Union Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement. It's fitting that our joint hosting of the ICRI will form part of this celebration. It's a perfect example of how South Africa and the European Union have joined forced over the years to advance global cooperation in science and technology, beyond our extensive bilateral cooperation.

To Director-General Robert-Jan Smits, an old friend of South Africa, and through him to Commissioner Carlos Moedas, I would like extend our most sincere appreciation. I'm confident that through our joint efforts ICRI 2016 will achieve its objective of providing an opportunity for the sharing of experience and expertise.

Ladies and gentlemen, research infrastructures not only represent the facilities, resources and related services used by our scientific communities to conduct research in their respective fields. They are also the very lifeblood of any successful system of innovation.

I would like to share with you four key points from a policy-maker's perspective.

First, large-scale facilities are not only hugely expensive to build and maintain, but require a sharing of global experience and expertise.

For projects such as the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, a successful international partnership is imperative. I look forward to ICRI's recommendation on best practice models for these sometimes complicated partnerships, especially with an eye towards ensuring the long-term sustainability of these infrastructures.

Second, open science and open innovation are the science policy buzzwords of our day.

We should, however, look beyond the rhetoric of making scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of societies. In the case of open innovation, we should try to better understand the dynamics of distributed knowledge, and the using of external and internal ideas leading to diverse paths to market. Specifically, I would expect ICRI to interrogate and advise on how research infrastructures should respond to this "openness." I am for example thinking of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems or GEOSS, in which South Africa and the European Commission play a leading part and its efforts to champion data democracy.

Third, we live in a so-called data-driven society. "Big data" offer enormous opportunities and challenges.

What are the implications for research infrastructures? This question I have no doubt will be at the heart of the IRCI 2016 discussions. It is of pressing concern to us here in Africa. In order to guard against a further digital divide, we have made important investments in infrastructures such as our Centre for High-Performance Computing and our high-speed South African National Research Network, which we are confident will permit our scientific community to "ride the wave of big data", to quote the title of the European Commission's seminal report on the subject. It is part of your discussions I will pay special attention to in order to inform our efforts to develop Africa's first data-intensive research cloud.

Fourth, and last, there is the broader societal dimension of our research infrastructures.

They are not and should never be ivory towers operating in isolation from the societies they are designed to serve. I look forward to discussions on how research infrastructure investments can make an impact on South Africa's priority triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment. ICRI recommendations on how we should better exercise our collective responsibility in this regard will be of great value. It can be done. The European Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), which African headquarters are located here in Cape Town, have seen important research infrastructure investments, which have been decisive contributions in the fight against infectious disease. We should be inspired by its success.

Ladies and gentlemen, when I met a while ago with officials of my Department to review the preparations for ICRI 2016, we set ourselves some objectives for South Africa's co-hosting with the European Commission of the event.

We wanted to ensure important contribution on critical aspects of the global policy debate on research infrastructures. Above all we wanted to make sure that we do justice to ICRI's standing as the premier forum for these discussions.

I'm confident this will be achieved.

We also wanted to ensure that ICRI 2016 would be enriched by the contributions of experts and stakeholders from Africa, especially from the developing world, many of whom would not have participated in the Conference before.

With representatives from more than 50 countries including several African states in attendance, I am hopeful that ICRI 2016, will not be business as useful.

We will be successful in achieving this objective if specific attention is paid in your discussions to expanding partnerships across disciplines, sectors and world regions, as we seek to develop truly inclusive research infrastructures, which actively engage in capacity building.

As I had already mentioned, our cooperation with the European Commission in organising ICRI 2016 should further cement our strategic partnership. I have no doubt that, as we look forward to the next twenty years of South Africa-European Union cooperation in science and technology, ICRI 2016 will be the foundation for intensified and deepened partnerships.

We also had a last objective - that through ICRI 2016 we should continue our efforts to promote South Africa as a trusted and valued partner for partners across the globe.

The ICRI 2016 Exhibition includes exhibits by several South African research infrastructures and I hope many of you will use the opportunity to visit those facilities located in the Western Cape later this week. I trust this will be a springboard for the development of fruitful, mutually beneficial and enduring cooperation.

Tomorrow, I will, within the margins of ICRI, be launching South Africa's first national Research Infrastructure Roadmap. It will not only constitute our framework for priority national investments, but will also be an open invitation to collaborate to all of you.

Ladies and gentlemen, science knows no borders and, in these times when our world more than ever before needs global friendship and solidarity, let us not hesitate inexploiting the valuable role research infrastructures play in science diplomacy. South Africa is firmly committed to this objective and I would like to thank you for joining us in this cause.

Once again welcome to South Africa. My sincere appreciation goes to all who have contributed to ICRI 2016 and I would like wish you all a productive and enjoyable stay in Cape Town.

Source: South African Government.

You May Also Like