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The past two position papers have focused on the specifics of innovation policy and reform in Mexico. [1] [2] This article does not intend to put forth new data and sources from which to draw conclusions, but rather aims to be an exploration of the various ways in which our national innovation habits and half-measures can make the implementation of these lessons difficult in Mexico.

 

As the context for the ideas presented here, this past week I had the honor to be invited as the keynote speaker to inaugurate the 4th International Congress of the Network for Biomaterials, Tissue and Organ Engineering (Red BIOT, A.C.) as well as provide a workshop on innovation policy and emerging technologies. [3] The keynote speech titled “Entrepreneurship to Transform Mexico [4] was an expansion upon the prior papers on innovation policy and reform [2] [1], and as such was a challenge to reform the existing system of science and innovation public policy in Mexico through a focus on entrepreneurship. This event gathered researchers from as far away as the Czech Republic, internationally renowned institutions like Stanford University, and 40 different universities in Mexico. As varied as these institutions were, most of the participants were either Mexican expatriates or nationals, with few purely international participants.

 

It is important to note that none of the observations I will be sharing here are scientifically sampled but are merely a report on the experiences during this international innovation-intensive event. I consider these observations valuable, however, because of the specific mix of people involved: innovators and scientists, primarily Mexicans, working in public and private institutions in Mexico and internationally, united by a common set of interests in innovation, giving a snapshot of how these ideas may be received across a broad spectrum of talents and professionals within a given field.

 

The primary emotional response to Entrepreneurship… was discomfort with a few positive, excited, and supportive responses scattered through the participants. Those that chose to engage and dialogue publicly were generally defensive of the status quo of the system, or doubtful of any meaningful opportunities to promote change and improvement in national science and innovation policy. Those that were excited and positive in their responses approached me to voice their support for the ideas presented rather than do so in the public forum.

 

This space is too short to go into detail on all the various discussions had over the congress, but understanding the context in which these discussions were had, I can share the following observations:

 

1.    Even though some participants were eager to see change, most assumed the status quo is either good, effective or unchangeable and therefore discussion of how to reform the system was at best a fun diversion and at worst a dangerous waste of time.

2.    Even among those that were eager for change, the unifying feeling was that the economic landscape around science and innovation in Mexico meant that to decide to work outside of the existing system or to reform it was a very great economic and professional risk.

3.    The participants with significant international scientific work experience seemed more inclined to desire reform but did not appear any more hopeful than the general population. I spoke with a Mexican scientist working abroad who has extensive experience generating networks of internationally-placed Mexican scientists and has known and participated in various kinds of scientific incentive systems including systems that give direct financial support to productive scientists. This scientist could not think of an example where a system similar to Mexico’s had produced strong economic development results for the host country.

4.    Those that had extensive international experiences but were currently back working in Mexico seemed mostly disinclined to want significant change or did not seem to believe change to be meaningfully possible.

5.    In multiple instances, people pointed out small half-measures that were taken in specific institutions or departments as signs that change is occurring and these calls for reform were therefore at best unnecessary and at worst alarmist.

6.    Almost across the board, people seemed dismayed at the abysmal lack of practical economic development derived from the good work being done by Mexican scientists.

 

The conclusions that I can draw from this small set of interactions across a broad snapshot of Mexican innovators can feel grim. As long as “we have always done it this way” and “what can I be expected to do about it?” continue to be dominant reasons for not radically addressing existing policy, there is little hope for true reform. Relying on the habits of the past and assuming the half-measures of the present to be true innovation are only a pathway to mediocrity. As one speaker put succinctly during the conference: Small, incremental improvements cannot be considered innovation if they are not part of a continuous process that leads to significant changes. Similarly, minor regulatory changes that are not a part of a continuous drive to major change cannot rightly be called innovative. [5]

 

While our political and economic climates may limit us to individually small changes, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent and assume these small steps to be enough. It gives me hope that the majority of those I observed were dismayed at the hard data on productivity and economic development. This suggests that these are goals we commonly share, even if we have not reached consensus on how to achieve them. To be the forces for transformation that our Institutional Mission calls us to be at UPAEP, we must be the shining beacon on the hill that calls ever forward, ever upward, to the Mexico that we have the potential to create together.

References

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[1]

Juan Manuel López-Oglesby, "Research and Innovation Reform as a Transformation Catalyst in Mexico," UPAEP Graduate School, Science Policy Position Paper 2017. [Online]. https://goo.gl/V2xSqd

[2]

Juan Manuel Lopez Oglesby, "The Economic Impact of Innovation," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Policy Position Paper 2017. [Online]. https://goo.gl/KNcFih

[3]

Red BIOT, A.C. (2017, Nov.) Red de Biomateriales e Ingeniería de Órganos y Tejidos, A.C. [Online]. http://redbiomat.wixsite.com/redbit

[4]

Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Entrepreneurship to Transform Mexico," in Memorias del 4o Congreso de la Red BIOT, Mexico City, 2017.

[5]

Evelyn Solís León, "Innovación en la era del Conocimiento," in Memorias del 4o Congreso de la Red BIOT, Mexico City, 2017.

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