Johan Schot, professor of Global Comparative History and Sustainability Transitions at the Utrecht University Centre for Global Challenges, attended the second Misión de Sabios summit in Cartagena, Colombia, together with 46 other commissioners, representatives of the national production sector and the Colombian Association of Universities (ASCUN). The summit debated commissioner’s proposals on constructing and implementing public policy for education, science, technology and innovation in Colombia. Schot emphasised the need for placing the SDGs at the core of the strategy and suggested experimentation as a pathway to transformative change.

Schot started working with Colciencias, Colombia’s Administrative Department of Science, Technology and Innovation, in 2016, when they became a partner of the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC). Schot is the founder and academic director of TIPC and has published influential research on TIP. Over the cause of three years, Colciencias and TIPC developed the Libro Verde (Green Book), a global milestone and roadmap for embedding Transformative Innovation Policy into Colombia’s national strategy.

At the summit Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez stressed that innovation always has to complement the competitiveness of Colombia in order to reach the country’s ambitious goal to become the 25th country in gross production per capita.

Schot added to this that competitiveness cannot be solely economic and emphasised the need for a different type of society, ‚Äėif competitiveness is not connected with social values, with sustainable development goals and environmental protection, not just as externalities but as core elements, then the Colombian science and innovation strategy will fail. It needs to be a strategy for the future world and this world is transforming. There‚Äôs a need to focus on reducing poverty, addressing climate change, biodiversity, building a circular economy and these need to be notions that are very central to the strategy.‚Äô

Schot stressed that the SDGs are missions that call for deep transformations and that their implementation strategy has to be transformative. His key implications were:

  • Instead of a top-down, a bottom-up approach should be applied ‚Äď one that involves civil society by using experimentation.
  • If Colombia wants to establish missions there has to be the ambition to implement them in a transformative way.
  • Instead of depending on the government, universities and scientists should take initiative themselves.

In regards to the last point, significant progress has been made already, as the summit in Cartagena kicked off discussions for starting a national transformative innovation program with multiple universities across Colombia. The universities shall set up projects with regional stakeholders and, by applying the methodology developed with TIPC members, participate in an international platform for experimenting with transformative change.


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