Networks of networks and science diplomacy in Latin America for sustainable and inclusive development

Dr. Gabriela Bortz (CONICET/UNQ, member of REDAPPE) / Tw: @gabybortz
Msc. Claudia Widmaier (OWSD Uruguay, DiploCientífica) / Tw: @WidmaierClaudia

Latin America is a region of great social, productive, biological and cultural diversity. It is home to 7 of 17 most biodiverse countries, 15% of the world’s languages and the most unequal region in the world. The COVID19 pandemic only exacerbated this last condition. Not only did it affected the health of millions of people, but it also had a serious impact on the economic and social development of the region, increasing the weaknesses of its social protection and health care systems. The improvement of the region’s social and economic situation and a recovery plan in terms of sustainable and inclusive development will depend on the countries’ ability to adapt and/or generate new regional strategies to provide for a better future.

As a region, Latin America ranks 5th in the Global Innovation Index1, after North America, Europe, Southeast Asia and Oceania, North Africa and West Asia. Today Chile (53rd), Mexico (55th), Costa Rica (56th), Brazil (57th), Uruguay (65th), Colombia (67th), Peru (70th), Argentina (73rd), among other countries, are important players in STI development in the region. Although they have significant capabilities in the sector, these have not yet allowed for systemic integration into national and/or regional development projects. They still function isolated, largely dissociated from both socio-productive needs and their use to inform public policy. Although the social use of science and technology is discoursively present in our countries, this requires to advance towards systemic processes of integration, governance and a repositioning of STI on the political agenda of LAC countries, integrated into long-term development plans.

Some prevailing trends in the region are:

  • The contradiction between explicit STI policies and the actual weight of STI in regional policy, funding, economic structure, and institutions.
  • R&D has been more oriented to international agendas, disconnected from regional socio-productive needs, with a low level of investment in activities that mobilize this knowledge to solve development problems.
  • An important role for STI can serve to transform the historical trend in Latin America, where competitiveness has been based on low production factor costs, availability of raw materials or geographical factors, resulting in short-term extractive competitiveness and social inequalities.
  • STI continues to have an isolated policy, which does not allow advancement toward new knowledge, technologies and networks for structural changes and productive diversification aligned with long-term sustainable and inclusive development strategies.
  • The continuous interruption of economic, productive, and social policies prevents the development of long-term capabilities.
  • STI production is also disconnected from policymaking. Making development decisions in an increasingly uncertain world requires harnessing this capacity to inform better public policy.

The current times present our region with challenges that require actions with a transdisciplinary approach that collaborates with scientific knowledge, technological development, policy formulation, and implementation, promoting productive development with a regional view, and experiential knowledge to find solutions to these challenges. Building networks between disciplines, regions, and countries appear as a means of exchange, learning and capacity building to address them (Bonilla et al., 2021). Science and innovation diplomacy has emerged in recent years as an academic movement and an interdisciplinary research and action agenda at the international level that articulates the commitment of various disciplines and stakeholders at the interface of science, technology, and foreign policy as a way to solve problems, so far scarcely explored in the region. Although the process in the region is recent and fragmented, it is possible to register some first initiatives, approaches, agendas, and practices that seek this articulation and institutionalize these dynamics (Da Silva et al, 2021).

In this scenario, the DiploCientífica Network* and the Argentine Network of Foreign Policy Professionals (REDAPPE), from its Science, Technology and Innovation Commission, join their efforts. The generation of “networks of networks” aims at generating collaborative strategies that circulate and mobilize actors, experiences, knowledge, and resources across national, disciplinary, and organizational boundaries in a dynamic manner. This becomes key in realities such as those of Latin America, where the search for sustainable development for present and future generations poses a critical emphasis on respect for the planet and its resources. This requires breaking down silos and institutionalizing spaces and networks for exchange, learning and capacity building so that STI policies, foreign policy, productive, social and development policies, national, subnational and regional, are aligned towards transformative visions in the long term.

1 The Global Innovation Index (GII) is an annual publication created by INSEAD Business School in 2007, and co-published with Cornell University. The GII ranks the innovation performance of 141 countries and economies from different regions of the world, based on 84 indicators. This edition analyzes the impact of innovation-related policies on economic growth and development and evaluates two groups of indicators: input indicators (inputs) and output indicators (results). In the first group, institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market sophistication and business sophistication are evaluated. In the second group, the results are analyzed in terms of knowledge and technology production and creative output. The relationship between these two indexes expresses how efficient a country is in generating innovation, taking into account the quality and quantity of the inputs used.

* DiploCientífica is an organization of people committed to Science Diplomacy in Latin America and the Caribbean, whose mission is to promote “Science Diplomacy in Latin America and the Caribbean, and communication between the scientific and diplomatic communities, public policy makers, academia, civil society, private sector and other sectors, through the generation of spaces, capacity building and production of constructive knowledge”.

DiploCientifica (2022). Institutional website.
Bonilla, K., Serafim, M., Bámaca-López, E., & Castaneda Mena, F. A. (2021). Science Diplomacy and Sustainable Development: Perspectives From Latin America. Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics, 58. da Silva, R. G. L., Ferreira, G. G. C., Onuki, J., & Oliveira, A. J. N. D. (2021). The institutional building of science and innovation diplomacy in Latin America: toward a comprehensive analytical typology. Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics, 9.

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