TBY talks to Gisella Orjeda, President of CONCYTEC, on investing in education, university-industry collaboration, and targeting innovation.

Gisella Orjeda
Gisella Orjeda is a biologist who has worked in genetics in various research institutions in France for 10 years. She returned to Peru to set up and head the genomics research unit at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia. Seven years later, she was appointed President of CONCYTEC, a position she has held for three years. She has also been president of FINCYT, and is a member of the board of SUNEDU, which supervises and evaluates universities. She is a member of the national accreditation board in Peru, which creates opportunities to integrate science, technology, and innovation into R&D and the DNA of the local higher education system.

Is enough being invested in education in Peru?

Only 3.5% of GDP goes to education annually, and less of 0.15% of GDP goes to science, technology, and innovation, far below what it should be. It was worse before former-President Humala's government. It is the first time a government has looked at this issue and begun to increase the budget, but far more is needed. The problem is that we are in a vicious circle because public universities are funding deprived and lack human resources and there are private, for-profit universities that do not care about a superior education. Decision makers do not understand the importance of knowledge in the economy. One of our roles at CONCYTEC is to show the value of knowledge, science, technology, and innovation for growth and development. We aim to educate people, from politicians to the average people, through interviews, promotional campaigns, conferences, workshops, and meetings. We want knowledge to be seen as something that migrates and flows, creating added value and transforming into products and services that can benefit everyone. Things are already changing, people are talking about innovation, and the government is spending more money on R&D, but there is a long way to go.

Only 3% of companies in Peru maintain continuous collaboration with universities. How can this be changed?

The academic and research body of Peru is weak, because there has not been any input for decades. This disconnect happens because there was no public sector support and the private sector never sought help from such a weak body. Whenever the need arose, the private sector sourced it from outside the country. To rectify this situation, we have to invest in and establish precise instruments, find the requisite financing, and set up transfer of knowledge offices in universities. This is not just about creating offices, but training people and sending them abroad if necessary. We need to finance R&D initiatives that bring together businesses, universities, and research institutions and develop a common language. We also have initiatives to create centers of excellence as part of a small group of firms to address their innovation needs. They come up with a list of needs then approach a research institute or university, and a research institute abroad, and the three of them create a center of excellence with the aim of creating the products that they want and solving the problems that need solving. We aim to build such synergies and research circles to find holistic solutions to common problems.

What specific segments do you think are lagging most in terms of innovation?

The entire economy would benefit from more R&D capacity and solutions. We need innovation and knowledge to increase efficiency and productivity across the economy. There are exceptions, with leading groups in different sectors, like agriculture, for example. But much more needs to be done. We continue our promotional efforts, trying to show the successes of those who have invested in innovation, and showing the public in general how important R&D is. We need to create a demand for the market of knowledge. This is the first time in Peru's history that there has been a policy on science, technology, and innovation, and we helped formulate it in consensus with all sectors. Four members of the board of CONCYTEC come from the private sector: CONFIEP, the National Society of Industry, the Chamber of Commerce of Lima, and the Peruvian Chambers of Commerce. The board also includes private universities, public universities, intellectual property entities, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Ministry of Economy. The success of CONCYTEC is this broad coalition and consensus that we have.