FROM KNOWLEDGE TO GROWTH

Colombia 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Yaneth Giha, Director of Colciencias, on driving development and promoting investment in science, technology, and innovation.

Yaneth Giha
BIOGRAPHY
Yaneth Giha is an economist with expertise and experience in business management. She previously served as the General Director for Leadership and Management Center, Deputy Minister of Defense for the Social Enterprise Group and "GSED" and Welfare, Vice Minister of Defense for Strategy and and Budgeting, Director of Innovation at the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce, and Advisor to the Deputy Minister of Education. She holds a Master’s in War Studies from King’s College London, and a Master of Political Studies from Javeriana University, Bogotá.

How did Colciencias' restructuring affect funding for health, education, and industrial initiatives?

Colciencias was restructured back in 2009, when it became an administrative department held by the presidency. The goal was to transform it into a department that would drive development in science, technology, and innovation (STI), in pursuit of national growth by leveraging knowledge economy. However, one of the things that we realized at that time was that we were spending very little in STI. Countries from the OECD all spend more than 2% of their GDP in these three areas. At that time, Colombia was dedicating a mere 0.3% of its GDP to these ends. The public sector realized that it had huge a responsibility in this regard. This launched a debate that culminated in a decision to spend 10% of royalties on STI.

What is Colciencias' vision and strategy for the enhancement of STI in Colombia?

The main challenge that we face in Colombia today is making STI a bigger part of our national development strategy. Colombia lags far behind the rest of Latin America in this regard. According to the Global Innovation Index, we are currently in seventh place. And while we are ahead in terms of input and ecosystem, we are still second to last in production terms. This means that we need to accelerate our efforts over the coming years. Our strategy for doing so is based on five objectives that are related to the improvement of the ecosystem for STI, the enhancement of our research capabilities and products, the stimulation of innovation in the productive sector, the promotion of a culture that values and manages STI, and the developing individual regions in regards to their capabilities and opportunities. For example, there are huge energy deficits in coastal areas such as San Andrés and Guajira. Guajira has considerable potential with wind and solar energy, and we need to start developing these capabilities. The country cannot risk energy, water, food, or health security. Moreover, we have to use our biodiversity sustainably. Our nation is one of the world's prime examples of biodiversity, but we need to exploit it sustainably in order to comprehensively develop across a range of sectors. Colciencias has twelve national programs, including biotechnologies, health, energy, sea, social science, agriculture, and education. We are trying to raise the discourse within these programs. Key figures from the public sector, such as ministers and vice-ministers, senior academicians, and businessmen are involved in these programs. We want to make ten-year plans for all of them and develop individualized strategies concerning what is required in each in the near future. Colciencias will invest in this, and utilize the money coming from royalties.

How do you intend to improve collaboration between Colciencias, public institutions, and the private sector?

Our contingencies need to be based on available resources—royalties, Colciencias, and other ministries. If we propose energy projects, the Ministry of Mines and Energy is likely to contribute resources. Another option is international resources through cooperation. We need definite plans that account for our needs, and then relate these to the relevant organizations. Royalties are also critical. However, there is another part of the story. Colombia needs to move forward with money from the private sector as well. We need to find a way to promote the increase in private investment in STI. In some countries, the private sector contributes 60-70% of investment. In Colombia this figure is at just 40% and needs to rise. The financial burden must be a cooperative one shared by the public and private sectors.