Innovation diplomacy: an alternative concept

A biofuel plant in Brazil

Is science diplomacy a self-contained field of diplomatic activity or should it be seen as a sub-set of a broader field of international activity that might be described as “innovation diplomacy”?

This was the issue raised by Ademar Seabra da Cruz, head of science and technology in the ministry of foreign affairs of Brazil, speaking on the final day of the Wilton Park meeting on science diplomacy.

He pointed out how Brazil’s surging capacity in science and technology has provided a new channel for establishing relations with other countries, particularly emerging economies such as China and India, and those in other parts of the developing world.

“Science and innovation together have a role that can be used to promote global equality and sustainable development,” Seabra da Cruz said.

“The big challenge to us and other emerging economies is to find ways of using scientific knowledge to enhance our competitiveness and create a new international division of labour. Without linking scientific knowledge to innovation policy, it is impossible to have sustainable development.”

As an example of innovation diplomacy in action, he pointed to how technical knowledge can be exchanged between countries about the best ways of using cheap, sustainable sources of energy – as Brazil is doing with its experience in biofuels — helping to improve relations between the providers of such knowledge and those that receive it.

“This is an example of where we can exchange information about best social and innovation practices – which are all likely to involve science to a greater or lesser degree – and also provide an immediate and relatively easy way of making innovation work for diplomacy.”

He admitted that, as with science diplomacy, innovation diplomacy presents a number of challenges. Diplomats need to be well informed on innovation-related issues, embassies need to develop “observatories ” that monitor the innovation landscape of the countries in which they are based, and ways need to be found to engage a country’s scientific and technological diaspora.

But, if all this can be achieved, “like science diplomacy, innovation diplomacy is a way of broadening the scope and functions of traditional diplomacy”.

David Dickson,
Director, SciDev.Net

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