Tecnology and innovation: keys for the development and competitiveness of the cities of knowledge

R + D + i

Expert managers of cities of knowledge in several Latin American countries argue that the sustainability and competitiveness of the cities is related to innovation ecosystems that result from the right business, academic, scientific, and humanistic collaboration.

¿How to transform 120 hectares of a military base into a space for knowledge and innovation? This was the challenge undertaken by the City of Knowledge Foundation (FCdS) 20 years ago: manage, develop, and transform the setting of the old Clayton military base. Today, the City of Knowledge campus is a community of 8,000 people that has become a model of sustainable development that is unique in Panama. However, there are other spaces and cities of knowledge and innovation in the world: innovative communities that promote social change through humanism, science, and business.

Despite the different situations and changing contexts of each country, there is an important cross-sectoral approach between these spaces, for example: what have been the keys to their development, what challenges do they face, what goals do they set for themselves and what opportunities are in sight for the future.

Within the framework of the The Open Science Forum for Latin America and the Caribbean 2018 (CILAC), held in Panama this year, the City of Knowledge Foundation organized a high level discussion board with the participation of managers of these types of spaces in different locations in Latin America to generate synergy, but most of all, to Exchange ideas, challenges, opportunities, and good practices based on the different collaboration models that shape these communities.

In Medellin, the Ruta N Corporation is a key player in Colombia that tries to speed up innovation processes. According to its Project Manager, Carlos Andrés Franco Pachón, Medellin went from being an industrial city, with significant social pressure, to a resilient city. To achieve this transition process, Franco Pachón explains that different social actors held panel discussions to talk about science, innovation and technology and mainly, to begin focalizing efforts with a view toward the future that prioritizes three markets: the electrical market, the health sector, and the ICT sector. According to Franco Pachón, Ruta N has two crucial elements for the development of its ecosystem: “developing talent and financing activities; in other words, attracting investment.”

The ultimate goal that Ruta N has in common with counterpart cities of knowledge in Panama and Brazil: a thriving, inclusive, democratic, and sustainable future for its countries and the world. “Nowadays, although we have a long way to go, Medellin is an innovative city and we have a high capacity to understand our issues and, above all, develop solutions,” Franco Pachón stresses.

Another key factor for the cities of knowledge is to develop competitiveness. “Currrently, some cities are not concerned about becoming more competitive and that is why they decline,” Francisco Saboya Albuquerque Neto, president of Porto Digital said.  “We live in a digital world, that is connected and in a network,” it is no longer about building large real estate complexes, but we must “free all the creative potential,” he adds.

Porto Digital is an urban park in Recife, in the North of Brazil, whose purpose was to create a global cluster of software development and services based on the ITC and regenerate the empty and degraded urban fabric. Albuquerque Neto explains that even though at the beginning it only consisted of two hardware companies, Porto Digital now brings together 315 companies, close to 9,000 employees, and $600 million in income.

According to Albuquerque Neto, “cities will be more competitive when they develop more technologies, but mainly in generating jobs for economic and social development,” he adds.

The greatest challenge in general terms in the case of Brazil was to develop a global business innovation project in a peripheral country, which has elements in common with the experience in Panama. Independent governance is another point of convergence with our country: a component of the utmost importance for the permanence of the technological park.

According to Guillermo Castro, Executive Advisor of the City of Knowledge Foundation and moderator of the session, the Panama model is “a four-propeller ecosystem: State, academia, businesses, and Panamanian society.” Parallelly, we are working to develop competencies at the FCdS in terms of human resources, relations with partners, customers, and neighbors, synergy and systematic governance, while strengthening the five strategic pillars for the sustainability of the Foundation: governance, environmental impact, management of knowledge, collaborators, and community.

In short, technology and innovation are key factors: development and competitiveness for these spaces of knowledge will not be possible if these elements are missing. Strategic planning is also vital: drawing a medium and long-term plan, after which it is imperative to periodically review operation plans and strategies.