UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


IIPP’s Kate Roll discusses human rights and development at UN

8 September 2022

Dr Kate Roll discusses the nexus of human rights, development and innovation at the United Nation seminar in Geneva


Dr Kate Roll, Associate Professor in Innovation, Development and Purpose at UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), was recently a keynote panellist at a United Nations (UN) seminar in Geneva, Switzerland, examining the relationship between development and human rights.

The 1st Meeting, Europe and Central Asia Seminar: The Contribution of Development to the Enjoyment of all Human Rights, was organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and met on 1-2 September 2022. It is one of a series of seminars in each of the world’s five geographical regions on the topic, which will take place before the 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in 2023.

The keynote panel also included Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela, Assistant Director-General, Special Advisor to the Director-General, Strategic Priorities, World Health Organization,  Dr Kori Udovicki, President of the Governing Board of the Center for Advanced Economic Studies, Serbia and a Member of the United Nations Committee for Development Policy, Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Chief Executive Officer, Oxfam UK and Dr Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, Executive Director, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Kate and the other panellists considered how development strategies can be used to direct economies towards innovation and investment that can contribute to human rights for all. They also looked at what can be done to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in the process.  

Kate says:

“Other speakers commented on the coherence of our panel, despite the diversity of presenters. There were key themes around rethinking the role of the state – which is so central to IIPP’s work – including economic policy and going beyond questions of redistribution (which remains very important) to thinking about how a social, political and economic systems distributions gains and losses from the start. These questions are core to ideas around development and human rights, because they speak to how we deal with inequality and those who are left behind.”

In her contribution, Kate discussed a number of points, including the importance of the role of the state as the guarantor of human rights, and the increased interest in the role of the state and institutions in development work. She said we must ask who and what is innovation for? Human rights can even act as an anchor for policies such as taxation. Despite unprecedented investment in innovation, there is ongoing poverty and environmental harm, and it is now important to think about direction, distribution and diversity. Kate also discussed the concept of missions, and how they can connect innovation with important goals relating to the likes of hunger and green transitions.

Kate says:

“We often talk about ‘development’ in our work at IIPP, particularly those of us who work in low income countries, but we don’t usually talk about human rights. Being asked to reflect on the nexus of human right, development and innovation was thus an invitation to consider their convergence and reinforcement. I was particularly struck by the use of both human rights and ideas of sustainable development as a means of expressing norms – how the world should be, what we should do – and how important and powerful that is in the face of arguments the idealise (or even idolise) ‘efficient’ markets. So often discussions of human rights can be dominated by legal concepts, but by bringing in development and innovation, we were able to talk about taxation and austerity, trust and media. It was a pleasure to take part.”