THE COMMISSION on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) was established in 1994 as a realization of a grand vision, conceived by the Pakistani Nobel Laureate, Prof. Dr. Abdus Salam, whereby the developmental gap between the North and the South was to be bridged through S&T capacity-building in developing countries. The mission statement of COMSATS is “to help create a world where all nations/states are at peace with each other and capable of providing a good quality of life to their populations in a sustainable way, using modern scientific and technological means”.
COMSATS is an apex body, comprising Heads of State/Government as its Members, while the highest level functionaries responsible for S&T affairs in member countries, acting as COMSATS’ Focal Points, constitute its Consultatives Committee. Currently, there are 21 Member States of COMSATS, while 17 R&D institutions in different developing countries are members of its Network of International S&T Centres of Excellence. The Heads of these Centres of Excellence are members of the COMSATS Coordinating Council. The Council is a unique platform, which enables the leaders of R&D organizations to consult one another about the latest developments in their scientific programmes, learn from the best practices and successful initiatives, and, in general, exchange among each other the offers of cooperation and requests for technical assistance thus facilitating South-South cooperation.
The major objectives of COMSATS are to: i) sensitize the countries of the South to the centrality of science and technology in the development process, to the adequate allocation of resources for research and development, and to the integration of science and technology in the national and regional development plans; ii) support the functioning and activities of the Network of International Science and Technology Centres of Excellence for Sustainable Development in the South; iii) support other major initiatives designed to promote indigenous capacity building in science and technology for science-led sustainable development, and to help mobilize long-term financial support from international donor agencies and from governments/institutions in the North and the South to supplement the financing of international scientific projects in the South; iv) provide leadership and support for North-South and South-South cooperative schemes in education, training and research; and v) support the relevant programmes and initiatives of major international organizations working for the development and promotion of science and technology in the South.
In order to achieve its objectives, COMSATS has been using a variety of conventional and innovative mechanisms, over the last 17 years. Capacity-building at the level of individuals and institutions has been conducted through seminars, symposia, workshops, training programmes, pilot-projects and sponsorship of scientific visits. Over 160 national and international events have been organized in the specific areas of science and technology that have a direct relevance to the socio-economic development of the member countries. Out of these, 20 have been on ‘environmental protection and climate change’ related themes. Other thrust areas of COMSATS are: information and communication technologies; natural products and agriculture, biotechnology, change and environmental protection, materials science, mathematical modeling, water resource management, and renewable energy technologies. International capacity-building programmes are also organized in partnership with other international organizations, such as Pakistan Commission for UNESCO, ISESCO, NAM S&T Centre, and Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, in order to gain maximum benefits with limited monetary input.
In 1996, COMSATS started COMSATS Internet Services (CIS) to provide high-quality Internet access in Pakistan, while in 1998, an I.T. training Centre was launched under the name of COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT). The latter is now a public sector degree-awarding institute with around 20,000 enrolled students, and 2,050 faculty members, more than 400 of which have Ph.D degrees. The Institute offers 66 degree programmes in seven Campuses across Pakistan. COMSATS also launched other pioneering projects, which were later taken up by other organizations, such as pilot-project of bio-gas production and the tele-health programme. The COMSATS’ project on the provision of medical consultation to remote areas of Pakistan through tele-health facility is being expanded under a grant approved by the Planning Commission of Pakistan. The success of these projects is a testimony of how investment in a scientific organization pays back several times of the original investment.