Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2009

Last week I attended the event “Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2009″, invited by my friend Pablo Michelis.

Last week I attended the event “Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2009″, invited by my friend Pablo Michelis. The event was held in a quite impressive complex, the Sofitel Cardales Reserve. It was very well organized and on the first day it had the presence of the highest authorities of the country: the President, the Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires and the Minister of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation. It is indeed great news that an event like this is organized in Argentina.

I want to comment on a very interesting panel that I was able to attend on Wednesday afternoon. The panelists were Alejandro Cecatto, Deputy Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation; Jorge Aliaga, Dean of the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences of UBA; Flora Montealegre Painter, Head of the Science and Technology Division of the IDB and Clovis Baptista, Director of Science and Technology of the OAS. The Moderator, Daron Green, Senior Director of External Reserarch of Microsoft Research, did an excellent job of keeping focus during the debate.

The panel was organized with questions from the moderator. Most had to do with the challenges and obstacles faced by countries in the region to move forward on the path of innovation and on how to integrate more effectively Academia and Industry. Mrs. Montealegre presented some figures that show the harsh reality of research in Latin America. I remember she mentioned that almost 50% of the investment in R & D in the region is from Brazil, Mexico has 26% and Argentina 6%. The rest is very fragmented. Furthermore, the public sector concentrates the vast majority of the investments. The percentage coming from the private sector is very low. In addition, the numbers of R & D as a percentage of GDP are far from those of developed countries. Despite this, there is an important and promising growth in recent years.

The panel gave me a very good impression, especially because of the consensus that seemed to exist between all the speakers, who came from different areas, on the challenges ahead and how to address them. I think that the main consensus is about improving the relationship between Industry and Academia. Dean Aliaga made a very important point about this. He commented that during the decades of disinvestment in Science in Argentina, which began in the late 60s, small research groups managed to survive in some Universities and other Institutes, but all that had to do with technology transfer suffered the most. Some existing mechanisms such as FONSOFT and the “Software Law” are on the right track and in my opinion are generating very positive results. In particular, the incentives for entrepreneurs, which receives proposals from all over the country, is very interesting. Further strengthening the scholarship programs and to keep bringing back Argentine Scienties that are now abroad are also steps in the right direction. Also, when the very delayed Sadosky Foundation is finally implemented, we will have at hand a very powerful tool.

We can only hope that these policies, unlike what happened many times in Argentina, can persist in time beyond the current Administration.

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