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Challenge to competence

Brazil to debate strategic plan for science, technology and innovation

Under the coordination of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT) and of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC), there is to be, before September, an wide-ranging debate to provide a consistent contribution for the federal government to outline guidelines and strategies for the sector of science and technology with a ten-year horizon, fundamental for a national project of economic, social and cultural development. The central point of this debate should be the National Conference of Science, Technology and Innovation, scheduled for September 18th to 21st, with its formal opening in the National Congress, and the remaining sessions in the Tennis Academy of Brasilia.

The conference will be preceded by six preparatory encounters, the so-called regional meetings, all to take place on August 16th and 17th – strictly speaking, one of these meeting, the São Paulo one, is statewide, because of its singular situation – its economic weight and degree of contribution to Brazilian scientific and technological production. According to the organizers, the preparatory meetings will draft propositions to be incorporated into the themes of the National Conference, “based on the discussions of local experiences and of the diversity of the regional and cultural environments that is a characteristic of the country”. There is a strong expectation that the debates will involve various segments – the scientific community, businessmen, politicians, representatives of teaching and research institutions, of trade associations and of the third sector – in order to really reflect the interests of society.

There are five major themes for debate. The first of them, On the Way to the Future, will, as the MCT informed, focus on education for science, technology and innovation, the dissemination of knowledge, encouraging young talent, training researchers, and the advancement of knowledge through research. Another theme, the Quality of Life, covers the propositions and debates on the contribution of Brazilian science and technology to enhancing the quality of life of Brazilian citizens, and for the proper use of the country’s natural patrimony and cultural heritage. The third theme, Economic Development, comprises the generation and distribution of wealth, economic growth, and the overcoming of regional disparities, based on the advances of science, technology and innovation.

The fourth theme, Strategic Challenges, deals with the actions of science and technology that aim at the knowledge, integration and exploration of frontiers that still represent obstacles to the development and defense of the nation: Territory, The Amazon, Semi-Arid, Sea, External Space, besides wide-ranging ventures like Information Technology, Communication and Biotechnology, which will have increasing importance in the coming decade. Finally, the theme of Institutional Challenge embraces discussions on legal landmarks, institutional arrangements, models for management and cooperation, and instruments for finance, aimed at the development of research and innovation and at the linkage between the State and Society.

São Paulo’s contribution
According to FAPESP’s president and the coordinator of its regional committee, the São Paulo Conference is being organized to analyze all the themes from the São Paulo point of view. But there are three of them – On the Way to the Future, Quality of Life, and Economic Development – that are particularly important in this state, as a result of the quality of its academic research, and to its level of development and industrialization. For this very reason, São Paulo should be offering significant contributions to the nationwide debate in these areas. Brito Cruz adds that “another theme very dear to São Paulo is the need that the state has for receiving more support from the federal government for higher education”. At this level, the situation of São Paulo is unique, because it is the only state in the federation in which the state government is the great supporter of education. “We need today a greater share of federal funds”, says Brito Cruz.

The São Paulo conference will take place in the State Legislative Assembly, a very appropriate place for a debate in which various segments of society will express themselves. On this point, something that is being regarded as crucial for the consistency of the strategies and guidelines that are to come out of the National Conference is that businesspersons will take part. This is natural: companies are the place, par excellence, for the generation of technology and innovation – and in Brazil they are still out of step with scientific development. In other words, the transformation of knowledge into GDP depends on the companies.

It was precisely for having this point of view that the Minister of Science and Technology, Ronaldo Sardenberg, gathered a group of 30 businessmen in São Paulo, on July 26th, for breakfast at the State Department for Science, Technology and Economic Development, under the command of Secretary Ruy Altenfelder since last July. Amongst the businessmen were the president of the Federation of the Industries of the State of São Paulo (Fiesp), Horácio Lafer Piva, the president of the Brazilian Federation of Banks (Febraban), Gabriel Jorge Ferreira, and the president of the Brazilian Association of the Electrical/Electronic Industry (Abinee), Carlos Paiva. Sardenberg urged them to take part in the debate at the Conference, giving their contributions, with their ideas and positions, towards the definition of a final document for a development plan for the Science and Technology sector for the next decade.

In parallel with the debates in the São Paulo Assembly on the 16th and 17th, those taking part in the regional conference and the public at large will be able to see concrete examples of how scientific and technological research is transformed into products and services for society. A display of the projects under the programs for Research in Public Policies, Public Education and Technological Innovation, all financed by FAPESP, has the task of showing this in the most didactic manner possible.

From green to white
The last great national conference on science and technology in Brazil took place 16 years ago, when the country was living through the beginnings of the process of the return to democracy, and one of the changes that came from that was the creation of the Ministry of Science and Technology. Since then, there have been profound transformations in the sector, all the world over, whether in terms of the advancement of scientific knowledge and of technological innovations, or of the organization of scientific production and its insertion in the processes of economic development.

Great changes have also taken place in Brazil, revealing more clearly the strong points and the great weaknesses (for example, the insufficient transfer of knowledge to society) in the Brazilian system of Science e Technology. This explains the need for a new and broad nationwide debate on the sector, which the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences have decided to sponsor in partnership. It has the support of an instrument for preliminary reflections: the Green Paper, a 264-page tome that was made available on the Internet in mid-July, in the MCT’s website (www.mct.gov.br).

Coordinated by researchers Cylon Gonçalves da Silva and Lúcia Carvalho Pinto de Melo, based on contributions from around 300 people from dozens of institutions, this document offers an extensive diagnosis of the Brazilian situation in science, technology and innovation. There is a document of another color, with a larger number of collaborators, which should say what the country intends to do in this field, and how, over the next ten years: the White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation.