Jorge A Motta, National Secretary of Science, Technology and Innovation: Interview

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Jorge A Motta, National Secretary of Science, Technology and Innovation

Interview: Jorge A Motta

How can research and development (R&D) aid Panama’s service economy? How do you strengthen ties between universities and the private sector?

JORGE MOTTA: Traditionally, R&D has been focused on life sciences rather than services. This is due to the important role that the health sector has played in the economy since the foundation of the country. Therefore, there is a need for R&D in the service industries; it will play an essential role in positioning Panama as one of the top three service-based economies in the world.

Strengthening the ties between the private sector and universities is a great challenge. Universities should be engaged in more consulting services for the private sector. Their knowledge needs to be shared, the way it is in Brazil or Mexico. There is a need for a set of public policies that allow the private sector to consult universities. Currently, the regulatory framework does not encourage such cooperation. Furthermore, there needs to be a higher number of PhDs for the private sector to be able to rely on universities for R&D.

What supporting infrastructure is required to facilitate and incentivise entrepreneurship in Panama? What role can incubators play in this matter?

MOTTA: Spaces for people to exchange ideas and the infrastructure to incentivise entrepreneurship already exist in Panama. The challenge is that there is a lack of coordination between the outlets available, as well as shortcomings in the efforts to encourage entrepreneurship. We do not need 10 incubators. What we need is more coordination between stakeholders. There must also be a change in bankruptcy laws for entrepreneurs, in such a way that the cost of failing is reduced.

How can innovations in science and technology help achieve sustainable development, social inclusion and competitive sustainability?

MOTTA: Science can and will play a key role in addressing some of the issues that affect a great percentage of the population and that have traditionally hampered the development of all layers of society. Better urban planning, water supply, sewage systems and social innovation can all be achieved through science.

However, a great challenge is that efforts in science and innovation are currently being focused mainly on the capital. There is a need to bring scientific developments beyond Panama City, especially to the most unprivileged communities in the country, such as those in indigenous regions. These efforts must have a long-term view. With the strategy being built practically from scratch, science can help achieve sustainable development, social inclusion and competitive sustainability, but only over a time period of 25 to 30 years.

The main challenge is to elevate the level of understanding of the importance of science and technology in each citizen’s daily life. The more citizens become aware that these areas are key for their own personal development and for the country, the more politicians will become aware of their need, and the more money will be budgeted for science and innovation.

What is being done to meet the human capital requirements for the National Strategic Plan of Science, Innovation and Technology 2015-19?

MOTTA: Between 2005 and 2015, more than 1700 Panamanians have been sent abroad to receive a foreign education in areas related to science, innovation and technology. Nevertheless, a deficit of qualified professionals still remains in these areas. Today Panama has approximately 140 scientists dedicated to R&D tasks for every 1m citizens. In order to reach levels that are equivalent to those in developed countries, we need to increase this number to roughly 800-1000 for every 1m citizens. Currently, the government is focused on this effort and the goal is to achieve a level of 200 to 220 top-end scientists per 1m citizens by 2019. Most importantly, the entire education system needs to be strengthened from top to bottom. This is something that is currently being pursued by the Ministry of Education, in order to cultivate Panama’s scientists of the future.

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The Report: Panama 2015

ICT chapter from The Report: Panama 2015

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