Brazil at a crossroads: re-asserting the importance of science and technology for development – Ezequiel Zylberberg and Elisabeth Reynolds

Ezequiel Zylberberg, Research Affiliate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Industrial Performance Center

Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center

From Valor

The Brazilian government has pursued a state-led development approach for nearly a century. In the last twenty years, it has enacted various policies and programs explicitly designed to strengthen its national system of innovation. It has sought to build upon early successes in agriculture, commercial aviation, and deep sea oil & gas exploration to create new engines of growth for the 21st century.

Brazil has increased spending on science and technology, encouraged greater collaboration between industry and universities, and fostered the creation of new institutions whose primary aim is to facilitate greater private spending on research and development (R&D). Yet, recent headwinds threaten to derail what, despite several well-known shortcomings, has been a remarkable story of progress.

Beginning with the economic recession and political fallout associated with the Lava Jato corruption scandal that began in 2014, and continuing with the proposed dramatic cuts to science and technology spending and the ouster of respected leaders in the scientific community, Brazil’s science, technology, and innovation agenda has faced serious challenges and now faces an uncertain future.

During these difficult times, it is important for the business and scientific communities to re-assert the value of science, technology, and innovation, not as an end in itself, but as a platform for sustained economic growth and social development. Brazil cannot afford to fall behind as the pace of technological change quickens and the globalization of production and innovation grows in scale and scope.

It was in the context of these ongoing challenges that MIT’s Industrial Performance Center (IPC) began a five-year research collaboration with the Brazilian National Service for Industrial Training (SENAI) in 2014. The project recently culminated in the publication of a volume entitled Innovation in Brazil: Advancing Development in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2019, Portuguese edition by Elsevier forthcoming).

This book represents a true transnational collaboration. It includes contributions from MIT researchers as well as leading Brazilian academics and practitioners, and proposes a forward-looking innovation agenda for the country. This research will be the focus of an upcoming presentation at the MIT Sloan Future of Work Conference to be held on August 29th in São Paulo.

We find that in order to effectively accelerate innovation and position itself for growth in the 21st century, Brazil should address five key areas. First, the country should strengthen its engagement with the rest of the world through global value chains and knowledge networks. This is made more urgent by the arrival of a set of fast moving, complex, and globally integrated digital technologies.

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