High-Level Strategic Dialogue on IORA’s 25 years - Reflection, Review & Renewal

The High-Level Strategic Dialogue on IORA’s 25-Years - Reflection, Review & Renewal co-hosted by the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Secretariat and South Africa was held at the InterContinental Resort, Balaclava, Republic of Mauritius from 20 to 22 June 2023.

IORA is one of the world’s largest regional groupings which links 23 Member States to support regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. 

The Dialogue provides a platform for IORAs 23 Member States, 10 Dialogue Partners, IORA Fisheries Support Unit, IORA Regional Centre for Science and Transfer of Technology, the Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group and the Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum representatives to reflect on IORA’s achievements and future focus.  

The dialogue was forward looking, with senior officials able to engage in frank strategic discussions to determine the future direction of the Association to enhance regional cooperation activities in key areas.

The strategic objectives of IORA are to promote trade and investment, enhance maritime safety and security, strengthening the blue economy and fisheries management, disaster risk management, facilitate academic, science and technology cooperation, promote tourism and cultural exchanges and women’s economic empowerment.

A key interest to both Member States and Dialogue Partners was Indo-Pacific cooperation through IORA, the dialogue discussed IORA’s Outlook on Indo-Pacific which was adopted in 2022.

This contends that the ‘interconnectedness of the Indian and Pacific Oceans is fundamental to understanding the Indo-Pacific region‘ and notes IORA’s ‘strong interest in ensuring peace, prosperity, economic cooperation, maritime safety and security, and stability for all the peoples of the Indo-Pacific region‘.

Member States and Dialogue Partners discussed concrete actions to take forward the regional cooperation in the Indo-Pacific through IORA.

Climate change was a particular focus for discussion.  Climate Change is a key issue in the Indian Ocean rim region and is of particular concern to IORA’s Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries.

During the opening session of the High-Level Strategic Dialogue, H.E Salman Al Farisi, Secretary General of IORA, Professor Sooklal, Ambassador at Large: Asia, BRICS and South Africa’s Focal Point: IORA, the current chair of IORA – Bangladesh and the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration have delivered their remarks.

RCSTT's Director, Dr. Sanjabi also presented his words on RCSTT's activities and policies. He emphasized that "the IORA RCSTT follows the aims and objectives of supporting applied research, policy, and human resource development programme as well as supporting the development of new technologies, joint cooperation, commercialization, and transfer of technology among the IORA Member States and Dialogue Partners, focusing on the development of all kinds of applied science related technologies, carrying out related analytical research on technology policy, marketing opportunities, and possible joint venture among the Member States and Dialogue Partners, and networking among the key stakeholders." He added that RCSTT is mandated to connect the Member States by knowledge sharing and technology diffusion in order to shift the technological divide and to reduce the disparity in terms of economic growth and social welfare among the region. Clinging to the IORA major priorities, the IORA RCSTT constantly tries to promote its regional cooperation and interaction in various fields of interest for the benefit of the Member States and Dialogue Partners.

Creating technology development hubs and focal points among the Member States, preparing and implementing multilateral cooperation models such as concentrating on the existing technologies in the region and improving and commercializing them using the common market in the region is the main purpose of the establishment of IORA RCSTT Coordination Centres. The establishment of Coordination Centres in the Member States and Dialogue Partners is an effective initiative of IORA RCSTT for power sharing in various areas of science and technology in the IORA region.

The proposal for the establishment of Coordination Centres was initially discussed and approved by the 7th Meeting of IORA RCSTT's Advisory Council, October 9, 2012, Tehran-I.R. Iran and then for final consideration it was presented to the Twelfth Meeting of the IOR-ARC Council of Ministers, 29 October 2012 to 02 November 2012, Gurgaon, Haryana, India. The objective of this new approach was to share the authority of the Centre with the IORA Member States. The divisions should lead the Member States in specific fields enhancing technology transfer and commercialization in the IORA region.

Later he talked about three Coordination Centres that the RCSTT has established, namely Desalination Technologies (CCDT), Medicinal Plants and Water and Sanitation Research and Innovation. 

Then he announced the challenges the Centre involved in with. Networking, Developing coordination centres in other interested Member States, and Focusing on technology transfer and establishment of databank for technology offers and requests were the three issues that was discussed. 

Finally, for the way foreward it was mentioned that in the threshold of starting new phase, RCSTT is thinking about new vehicle for collective learning region wide. But in order to envisioning what might lie ahead in the future and design its roadmap, we should first understand how Member States and Dialogue partners stand in terms of science, technology and innovation. The below Graph which are based on the data provided by the Global Innovation Index Report (2018), depict the position of each Member State (blue circles) and Dialogue Partners (orange circles) in terms of innovation index ranking.

He stated that for ex-post evaluation, we need a new vehicle. "That is why RCSTT needs to establish a new unit of STI Policy Studies and tries to build a regional network based on this unit. This regional research and training network will support policy research to leverage science, technology and innovation as powerful engines for sustainable development, region-wide. RCSTT hopes this new initiative functions as an innovation policy hub and bridges all the research centers and higher education institutes together that hopefully, will facilitate building a platform for collective learning and co-creating a regionalized innovation system supporting the Member States in their efforts to harness technology and innovation in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals.  

Through this new initiative RCSTT, hopefully, brings together leading academics, institutes and industries from around the region to produce research, hold conferences, and disseminate knowledge on how to devise science and technology policies for social and economic good and how best to fill the gaps between the different Member States with different levels of economy, advancement and scientific and industrial potentials."

And the last word, IORA brings together governments, businesses and academia representatives of the 23 Member States (MS) and 10 dialogue partners (DP) to promote mutually beneficial economic co-operation through a consensus-based and non-intrusive approach. In this respect, RCSTT, as the IORA Specialized Agency is aimed at facilitating joint projects, transfer of scientific information and technology and commercialization in mutual areas of interest with other countries under the aegis of IORA Academic Group and the WGSTI and in close cooperation with other Working Groups such as WGBE and WGWEE.