Science and Technology for Development in Uruguay

Guillermo Anlo – Regional Expert on Science, Technology and Innovation at the UNESCO Montevideo Regional Office

Watching the movie we want on a Friday night doesn't depend on what the video store assistant recommends (how old!) or what the newspaper reviewer says. If we choose to go to the movies, we don't have to think too much about which route to take to avoid being late, here too the app's instructions make the decisions for us. To complete the outing, if we are to enjoy a meat burger, it need not come from a living being, as meat can be „grown” in a lab. If the whole experience left us with some kind of trauma, advances in neurotechnology will – perhaps in the not-too-distant future – allow us to overcome it in a couple of sessions using a device to erase bad memories.

For example, the caravans in each Uruguayan livestock allow to guarantee the quality of the meat (with traceability) and to get the best prices in the international markets, and if we take into account the „export of knowledge-intensive goods and services”. „Already accounting for more than 20% of Uruguay's total exports, there is no doubt that science and technology are essential to the country's future. Therefore, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights maintains, they can play a fundamental role in any strategy that allows Uruguay to „enjoy the benefits of science” and move toward the long-awaited sustainable development. New realities pose potential dangers to people and the planet.

From UN Uruguay, we propose to contribute to long- and medium-term thinking through the cycle of „Future Dialogues”, a space for collective exchange about the opportunities and challenges facing the country to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. Recently, in the debate about the future of Uruguay in terms of science and technology, we were able to observe a heterogeneous panorama presented in terms of comparative indicators, both in Latin America and in the country. , opportunities and complex challenges.

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There seems to be a consensus among different sectors (politics, universities, research community, young researchers or technology-based companies, etc.) about the need to increase investment in science and technology. Even with the recent good news that Uruguay's research and development (R&D) efforts have increased to 0.6% of GDP, this indicator remains below internationally proposed standards (from the globally agreed 1% since the 70s to the 3% target set by the European Union in 2002), but From countries such as Brazil (1.17%) or Spain (1.43%), or from the „1% of the National Agreement for Research and Innovation in Science and Technology” 2014, promoted by the National Academy of Sciences of Uruguay and signed by the then presidential candidates of all parties.

There is also consensus on the importance of increasing public and private sector investment in a balanced manner, considering international experience that countries that invest heavily in S&T invest equally or more with strong government support. Participation of business sector. New data show a trend in this sense, and the presence of important state institutions in Uruguay may be an opportunity to find a complementary way, little more explored. Private investment in science, technology and innovation, facilitated and encouraged through public policies, is the main way in which the results of research and development are incorporated into the production process in the form of new products, processes or services. Innovations – increase employment and boost the overall economy. At the same time, the challenges of sustainability in the framework of the triple planetary crisis (climate change, biodiversity, pollution) require innovative and science-based initiatives for companies to maintain their positions, but also to access more and more demanding markets, as is the case of the European Union. Science and technology, in this sense, are tools to break down non-tariff barriers and bring Uruguay closer to the new dynamics of international trade.

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To move towards substantial change in Uruguay, building consensus in society is essential. Is the country ready to transform into a knowledge society and move towards development? This pandemic gave us an example of the Honorable Scientific Advisory Committee (GACH), which not only contributed cutting-edge knowledge to political decision-making, but also cemented the connection between science, politics and society. Science should be at the center of public policy for scientists (Uruguay has high gender equality) and should be part of every barbeque or snack-night conversation. PCR vs. Antigen, virus vs. Bacteria, RNA vs. The protein, science dichotomy appeared to replace the football dichotomy in the face of a sports drought.

Since its inception, UNESCO has promoted the importance of creating a harmonious relationship between science and society as a response to the challenges posed by progress in science and technology and as a positive synergy to establish a path to sustainable development. These ideas are reinforced by the concept of open science today. An open science is open inside science, through publications, data and open access infrastructure, but above all „outside” science. A science open to society, which makes communication a familiar practice, dialogue and social participation a tool for choosing paths and priorities, and above all, producing better science. An open science is also open to diversity, minorities and gender equality. Therefore, an open science promotes values ​​such as dignity, integrity, diversity, responsibility and respect for human rights, respects and takes into account the ethical implications of research, technological development and its impact on society and the environment.

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We hope that these „future conversations” will help strengthen this connection between science and society, and renew the commitment of the entire Uruguayan society to science, technology and innovation as a fundamental tool for the leap towards development.

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