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Science and innovation, pillars of Cuba’s economic and social strategy

Interview with Dr. Aurora Fernández González, member of the executive team of the National Innovation Council. Photo: TTC.

Innovation goes hand in hand with the application of knowledge and science; it is a result of them. For Cuba, it is part of a policy that acquires a greater dimension given that it is a poor and blockaded nation.

Just over a year ago, the constitution of the National Innovation Council (CNI) was another step in the materialization of what has been assumed as a government management system: government management based on science and innovation as a pillar of the Cuban economic and social strategy, to find solutions to the challenges facing the nation and ensure sustainable development. This was stated by President Miguel Díaz-Canel himself, the architect and promoter of this policy.

The successful results of Cuba’s confrontation with COVID-19, marked by the efforts that united scientific knowledge and the national health system, at the call of the Head of State, constituted one of the seeds of that strategy.

Since then, the President has held regular and frequent meetings with scientists and health professionals to analyze not only how the fight against the pandemic is progressing, but also other issues that have to do with the health of the population. To this have been added regular meetings with the most diverse sectors of the country’s social and economic life and members of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, employment of experts for the advancement of public policies, as well as monthly meetings with the CNI itself.

The National Innovation Council was established in May 2021 as part of the crystallization of the efforts led by Díaz-Canel and Cuban scientists to make the science and innovation processes in the country more intersectoral, interinstitutional, and interdisciplinary.

“The CNI is an advisory body to the President of the Republic to direct the use of knowledge with a view to solving the fundamental problems of the country, based on innovation,” Doctor of Technical Sciences Aurora Fernández González, advisor to the Minister of Higher Education and member of the executive team of the CNI, explained in an interview with TTC.

A few countries in the world, including Sweden, have a National Innovation Council. “We studied the Swedish experience a lot,” she says, “and we realized that an advisory body of this type could be useful here.”

The CNI is made up by 24 people, including President Díaz-Canel (who is a Doctor of Technical Sciences and heads it), the prime minister and a deputy prime minister (Master of Science and currently a doctoral candidate Inés María Chapman Waugh), along with nine holders of portfolios considered as “most innovative”; five experienced academicians and five successful entrepreneurs.

The Cuban National Innovation Council is a platform for discussion and exchange of ideas and perspectives between specialists in the production and services sector, universities, science, technology and innovation entities and the government. There, a dialogue between equals is generated around key issues for the country.

The executive team of the Council analyzes in advance the topics that will be proposed for debate. “We try to invite knowledgeable people who come up with new ideas. They do not always have the same points of view,” she said.

There is a previous search for the sources that can provide that knowledge, the contrast and debate of ideas.

Among the guests, for example, was the secretary of the Swedish Innovation Council, Sylvia Schwaag Serger, last February. “It was a very rewarding experience.”

“Such important issues as renewable energy sources (RES) have been discussed in the Council. Most of our electricity, more than 90 percent, is generated by thermoelectric plants, which use fossil fuels; also very old, and whose maintenance is very expensive,” she pointed out.

“The country aims to try to increase RES, and that at some point they become the largest source of generation…. Work is being done so that by 2030 a good part of the electricity comes from RES.”

There has also been a debate about the digital transformation, which is a higher stage, an improvement of the computerization policy of society in the country. “It was approved to prepare a country program for digital transformation in Cuba and the Digital Agenda for 2030.”

In addition, the digital transition applied to the national health system has been especially analyzed.

The Council, she added, in some way serves as a technical advisory council to discuss and analyze the problems.

“In each of the issues that the CNI analyzes, the President has indicated that proposals be brought on matters that will have a favorable impact on the life of the population, on the common citizen.

“We think that the CNI can be like a transmission pulley to search for and generalize experiences.”

Seek knowledge wherever it is

Dr. Aurora Fernández is a profound connoisseur of these issues. In addition to serving as advisor to the Minister of Higher Education, she participates as an expert in government commissions on issues of higher education, science, technology and territorial development; she coordinates the Ministry’s University Management of Knowledge and Innovation for Development (GUCID) network and directs its Higher Education and Sustainable Development CTI Sectoral Program.

Photo: TTC.

A graduate of industrial engineer at the University of Havana, Aurora Fernández obtained a Doctorate in Technical Sciences at the Polytechnic University of Poznan, Poland, and is Full Professor and Professor Emeritus at the José A. Echeverría Technological University of Havana. Photo: TTC.

Among her various responsibilities, her work as a member of the Cuban and Iberian-American CTS+I (Knowledge, Innovation and Development) Chair of the University of Havana also stands out.

She has been deputy minister of higher education in charge of Postgraduate, Science, Technology and Innovation activities, advisor to that ministry, as well as vice president of its Technical Advisory Council for Science and Technology.

“Innovation is nothing more than the use of knowledge to solve a problem, and it has been greatly understated,” she said when TTC asked about the concept.

The application of research results and the search for knowledge, she said, have not always been in the foreground because, as has happened in many parts of the world, the competent organizations have devoted themselves more to scientific research than to innovation. However, “many of the investigations have ended up in a drawer.”

“Now we are valuing a lot, too, that not only the knowledge of scientists and professors is needed. For example, in the sphere of agriculture it is very important to meet with the producers and listen to their experiences.

“Knowledge can be the same in a farmer, in a housewife who says which bean needs an hour of cooking or that other, half an hour. Knowledge must be obtained wherever it is, without ignoring, of course, the scientific. Cuban COVID-19 vaccines would not have been achieved without the Finlay Institute’s research; but many things in everyday life are, above all, linked to learning processes, closely linked to productive tasks.

Could we say that science, innovation and knowledge constitute the triad that is governing government work in Cuba today?

“Yes. Knowledge ranges from high science to a farmer’s knowledge…general knowledge. Science ranges from high science to all that great realm. Science and innovation: because advances in knowledge, if you do not apply them, do not become innovation.

“This system of government is also based on the fact that Cuba has human talent, it has a very prepared people, with knowledge, which on many occasions is not used as much as it should be,” she assessed.

“Innovation is a result of basic knowledge or scientific knowledge that you apply to solve a problem. If not, science remains in the great scientific articles, in the indexed journals, in the academy awards….

“Knowledge, science, technology and innovation constitute essential inputs to advance in the development process, at all levels.”

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