Last weekend, I attended 21CC: Challenges Of Our Century conference that aimed to engage Oxford student community to discuss and debate the most pressing global challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, from the future of economics and humanitarian aid, to food security and pandemics. In collaboration with the Oxford Martin School, a world-renowned champion of interdisciplinary research, the conference offered Oxford-based students an unmissable opportunity to hear the exchange of ideas between internationally recognized policy makers, business leaders and leading experts. The event had four panels that tackled four critical challenges – state of the global economy, infectious diseases, food security and humanitarian assistance in conflict ridden environments. Some engaging speakers presented their thoughts including a good mix of academics and practitioners with Oxford students challenging them at every step should they err.
The first session kicked off with prospects of the global economy over the next decade and further. Members of the panel included Ian Goldin, Rana Mitter, Frances Stewart and Ian Harnett. Some of the major trends discussed included sovereign debt crises, need for growth to check their rise, urgent need for jobs globally especially amongst the youth, importance of China given it’s rising share in the global economy, and balancing economic with ecological concerns. The panel sparred on the best means available to engender sustainable growth across the world, task that is made more difficult by the looming sovereign debt overhang. Mitter argued that this particular debate in the Chinese context is taking place with considerable vigour surrounding the so-called Xiaokang Society or one that is characterised by moderate prosperity and stable middle class and on their propensity to prize growth that is well-rounded. Within the west, or the OECD, growth will largely revolve around debt and its collective management. As already witnessed across many European countries, austerity is the name of the game which forces us to ask if we need an adequate insolvency policy for countries and its financial actors.
The next session focused on infectious diseases, TB, Malaria and HIV, and its possible eradication in this century. Mark Dybul, director of the GFATM, was the star attraction despite his delayed entrance. Tremendous advancements in science and drugs research have alerted the terrain of infectious diseases, resulting in gains that were not foreseen a generation ago. But problems still exist. Dybul argued that we are on the cusp of making strides that have the potential to dent the recurrence of these diseases. Innovations in spatial mapping are being deployed to precisely locate and target interventions in countering the HIV virus. Dybul also spoke about how vaccinations are being used through these GIS methods to demarcate high transmission dynamic areas and then concentrating all efforts to mitigate these diseases. Insofar as TB and Malaria are concerned, we need to redouble our efforts and financing to thwart their episodic.rise across the world; TB still plagues governments across Asia and Africa to this day.
The third session focused on food security and the incumbent challenges under producing more food using fewer resources and inputs and managing those resources effectively once they are produced, both of which form two parts of the food security.divide. Liam Dolan, plant scientist, argued that genetic approaches to food production offer great promise in raising yields and these genetic innovations can not only harness existing inputs pike water and sunlight more productively but they also, in certain circumstances, enable to manage for climatic shifts deftly too. John Ingram focused his remarks on the food distribution side of the issue and how we need to develop robust and responsive food systems, including functions like retailing, purchasing, storing, and consuming also enhance food security. Knowledge is also part of the equation here; we need to be able to leverage knowledge better to address both gaps.
And the final session looked at the prospects of improving humanitarian assistance in conflict ridden zones. Here the speakers mentioned the context above all matters in the determination, disbursement and distribution of aid and here there’s a gap between what aid donors can do and what is actually expected of them. Despite the litany of challenges that exist in fractious and toxic security conditions, we need to do a better job of understanding requirements and channeling assistance to ameliorate that, knowing that there exist massive limits to the utility of assistance in conflict settings.
All the sessions were filled with good speakers addressing tough global questions, good range of thoughts offered to explain where we are and how we can get to where we should be ably complemented by an engaging audience that were probing and perceptive in response.