2012 Tech4Dev International Conference

Technologies for Sustainable Development: A Way to Reduce Poverty?

29-31 May, 2012 | EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland

Executive Summary

The Cooperation & Development Center (CODEV), under the direction of Prof. Jean-Claude Bolay, organized its second major international event after being recognized as a UNESCO Chair in Technologies for Development in 2007. Held from 29-31 May 2012 at EPFL in Switzerland, this conference set out to boost the role of science and technology as an agent of social transformation and change. It aimed to meet this challenge by encouraging researchers and practitioners to share their experiences in the following areas: defining appropriate technologies that respond to social needs and realities; establishing cross-disciplinary partnerships; and improving technology transfer and supporting the co-creation of technologies.

Prof. Philippe Gillet, Vice President for Academic Affairs, opened the event with a welcome address to an audience of 280 people from 48 nations.

A Scientific Committee composed of 10 high-level experts from academic and non-academic institutions evaluated over 145 papers and ultimately selected 82 for presentation at the conference of which 20 will be published in 2013. Furthermore, 10 posters were exhibited. Research projects were presented from a number of fields including energy, health and environmental risks, human settlement, information and communication technologies,and education and cooperation. Thanks to financial support from the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency (SDC), the Canton de Vaud, the City of Lausanne, Landolt & Cie, Swiss Private Bankers, Cleantech Alps and the Commune of St. Sulpice, 35 participants from developing countries were able to travel to EPFL to attend the event and present their papers.

The conference focused on the following key questions:

1. “Appropriate Technology”? Needs and participation
2. Towards a Sustainable Integrated Development? Partnerships and Systems
3. Technology: Transfer or Co-Creation? Knowledge Sharing and Empowerment

The five key speakers and the titles of their presentations were:

  • Dr. Lidia Brito, Director, Division of Science Policy and Sustainable Development, UNESCO, and former Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology in Mozambique, Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation Policies to Promote Sustainable Development.
  • Prof. Miguel Nicolelis, Founder and Scientific Director, Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute for Neuroscience, Brazil, Science as an Agent of Social Transformation.
  • Dr. Martin Dahinden, Director General, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Technologies for Sustainable Development: A Way to Reduce Poverty?
  • Prof. Luc Soete, Director, United Nations University, Economic and Social Research Institute (UNU-MERIT), Innovation and Technology, Innovation on the Move.
  • Dr. h.c. Pierre Landolt, Associate Landolt & Cie, Swiss Private Bankers, The PIRARUCU Project: An Exemplary PP Partnership and an Innovative Technological Process which will Foster the Development of an Amazonian Rural Area.

Special guests at the conference included Jean-Bernard Münch, President, Swiss Commission for UNESCO, Ambassador Rodolphe Imhoof, Permanent Swiss Delegate to UNESCO and Mr. Nicolas Mathieu, Secretary General, Swiss Commission for UNESCO.

Seven side events were organized during the conference by various organizations from different sectors to complement and enrich the participants’ experience. These side events offered a less formal moment to exchange on specific issues and projects related to the conference themes.


The discussions held over the three days have been rich and inspiring. Experience gained in different fields and scientific contexts has shown once again the need for and importance of efficient collaboration between scientists and development professionnals. In order for technologies to be adopted it is not sufficient that they are low cost and affordable but also socially, culturally and environementally accepted by the intended users. Therefore, it is crucial that the real beneficiaries are known and that their needs are analysed and taken into account. Another key message that was put forward focused on the need to develop a strategy based on a long-term vision and not only on the development of an appropriate technology. Such an approach is onsidered essential in order to reach the ultimate aim of technologies for development, namely the reduction of poverty.

During the conference, the concept of partnership has also been intensely discussed. Two of the key messages coming out of the discussions were on the one hand the need to involve government at all levels wherever possible in a transdisciplinary research approach in order to influence policy development. On the other hand it was emphasized that successful partnerships are based on trust and communication and require a long-term perspective, with sufficient resources for capacity building, delegation and sharing of power amongst stakeholders.

Regarding technology transfer it was pointed out that appropriate innovation should focus on solutions that are not dependent on high quality infrastructures and which can be tailored to resource poor settings. The concept of co-creation was used to describe this process by which innovation is based on cooperation and mutual learning and takes into account not only the technological aspects but also the broader organizational, economic and social context.

We are looking forward to the next EPFL-UNESCO Conference on Technologies for Development, which will be hosted at the Swiss Tech Convention Centre at EPFL from 4-6 June 2014.