FAPESP and the internationalization of São Paulo State's research
September 23, 2015
By Graça Mascarenhas and Heitor Shimizu
Agência FAPESP – In the inaugural address he delivered upon taking office as President of FAPESP on September 26, 2007, Celso Lafer stressed the importance of the Foundation to the development of research in Brazil and to the dialogue between science and the humanities. He said FAPESP’s outstanding quality and effectiveness were grounded in three factors: autonomy, punctuality in fund transfers by the São Paulo State government, and constant interaction with the academic community. He also highlighted the key role played by partnerships in Brazilian research and the development of Brazil itself.
Eight years later, Lafer has handed over the presidency to his successor, physicist José Goldemberg. The institution was already well established when he took office, Lafer told Agência FAPESP. Above all, he believes he succeeded in enhancing FAPESP’s participation in the global science and technology arena, expanding the creation of research opportunities and benefiting São Paulo’s academic community.
During Lafer’s two terms, FAPESP signed 130 international cooperation agreements. At present, it has cooperation agreements with 136 universities, research funding agencies and companies in 27 countries on all continents, as well as several multilateral organizations. The number of agreements with Brazilian institutions and companies quadrupled in the period.
“FAPESP began well,” Lafer said. “It was well designed from scratch. Moreover, it’s always been an exemplary institution for the rest of the nation, not just in the field of research but also in the broader sense of good governance, which has enabled the Foundation to act in a very constructive manner. I believe the mission of anyone who assumes such a responsibility as I did eight years ago is to add something to what’s already there. This view is akin to the idea of authority in Hannah Arendt, about which I’ve written.”
Lafer then turned to the importance of FAPESP’s internationalization effort. “This was one of my priorities during my two terms as president,” he said. “The process already existed, but at a fairly modest level. I believe internationalization was a milestone of my administration. There was interest and ample potential, but my prior experience and knowledge of the significance of this process, in conjunction with my network of contacts, took FAPESP’s internationalization to a much higher level. This is true of its relationships with universities and its agreements with research funding agencies in other countries, as well as the idea of going beyond the intensification of our relationships with traditional partners in pursuit of new partnerships, such as in Japan and China for example.”
In this context, Lafer stressed the importance of FAPESP Week, a series of three- or four-day events held in various parts of the world where researchers from Brazil and the host country exchange their latest findings in knowledge areas of shared interest. This was another opportunity to address the challenges of internationalization and drive the process forward, according to Lafer.
“We held several of these events in the United States and in European cities from London and Munich to Madrid, Barcelona and Salamanca, as well as Beijing, Tokyo, Toronto and Buenos Aires,” he said. “This intense internationalization effort put FAPESP firmly on the map of diplomacy for science and bolstered its international cooperation in science and technology. The number of delegations coming to FAPESP was very large. We welcomed one every week, sometimes two, not only to formalize or discuss agreements already signed but also to establish contact. This diplomacy for science and technology is immensely important in today’s divided world full of tensions because it makes researchers stakeholders in a process of cooperation – cooperation and collaboration for peace and understanding. That’s also part of the universe of concerns that resulted from my own academic and professional background.”
“Internationalization offers more opportunities for our researchers to create extensive knowledge communities and networks with which to interact,” Lafer said. “This in turn opens up new possibilities and new parameters for action and knowledge exchange. Moreover, in contrast with what happened in the past, we now have two-way internationalization. Our researchers go abroad, and researchers from other countries come to Brazil. This exchange is not just important but fundamental to the development of science and technology as a whole.”
Lafer stressed that the process of knowledge creation is no longer territorially delimited. “It also involves a great deal of networking,” he said. “Many of FAPESP’s programs, such as BIOTA and BIOEN, are an expression of a key dimension of today’s world, which is that knowledge creation expands and intensifies through networks. During the consolidation of graduate studies in Brazil, there was a long period of provincialism in which scientists and researchers tended to turn their backs to the outside world, as opposed to the previous preference for studying abroad and creating or joining cross-border collaborative networks. This preference predominated when FAPESP and São Paulo State’s universities were established.”
The large number of cooperation agreements signed by FAPESP in recent years increase the potential for scientific research “on the basis of reciprocity”, Lafer added.
“It’s not a matter of technical assistance, where we receive and others give or vice-versa. It’s a matter of synergy, of joint efforts,” he said. “This opens up broader horizons for researchers both in São Paulo State and in our partner countries or regions, not only through networking but also through collaborative projects and co-authorship of scientific articles, which also express this synergy. Jean Monnet, the French economist and diplomat who did so much to instigate European integration, advocated establishing ‘de facto solidarity’ to foster integration in the widest sense. By this, he meant the solidarity that results from self-sustaining interaction and convergence. Indeed, this was highlighted at FAPESP Week Buenos Aires by Roberto Salvarezza, President of CONICET, Argentina’s National Scientific & Technological Research Council, who argued that in proportional terms the intensity of research cooperation between Argentina and Brazil exceeds that of research cooperation between France and Germany, or any other pair of similar countries, for example.”
FAPESP’s cooperation agreements do not represent costs but on the contrary capture additional resources. “Since 2008,” Lafer said, “the agreements signed by FAPESP have generated more than 800 collaborative research projects and some US$50 million to fund them. This means expansion not only of opportunities for knowledge creation and partnership but also of the resources needed to make that expansion possible.”
Another aspect of the internationalization process stressed by Lafer was FAPESP’s São Paulo School of Advanced Science program (SPSAS). Since its inception in 2010, the program has supported 48 short courses on advanced research in a wide array of knowledge areas, bringing thousands of students and researchers from dozens of countries, including several Nobel laureates, to interact intensely for several days with researchers and students from São Paulo State.
Scientific and technological research
Lafer recalled that the new constitution drawn up by São Paulo State in 1989 as part of Brazil’s return to democracy after more than two decades of military rule raised the amount of tax revenue to be allocated annually to FAPESP from 0.5% to 1% and added the development of technological research to its mission. Its larger budget and additional responsibilities led FAPESP to pursue more ambitious research goals from then on. For example, Thematic Projects and programs designed to foster technological research partnerships with companies, as well as the funding of Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) and the BIOTA, BIOEN and Climate Change programs, were all introduced in the last two decades.
Following this increase in its budget, Lafer noted, “an institution that began with a broad conception of research, focusing on grants and scholarships motivated by the interests of researchers, as well as education and training, became able to do far more. The ensuing period saw important creations, such as Thematic Projects in the 1980s and then RDICs in the late 1990s, representing knowledge organization based not only on its complexity but also on the relatively long time span required by scientific research.”
Expanding on this topic, Lafer explained that “this constitutionally guaranteed and predictable budget enables us to award funding for long-term projects, as well as programs focusing on a specific issue or set of concerns, such as BIOTA, BIOEN and Climate Change (RPGCC). The first of these was BIOTA, an example I like very much because it embodies the interdependence between basic and applied research. The program has added a lot to the repertory of knowledge about biodiversity and offered inputs for public policy guidelines in areas such as environmental and agricultural zoning in São Paulo State. Under my administration, BIOTA was renewed, and we launched the BIOEN and Climate Change programs, two initiatives to which I gave strong backing. In light of my own prior experience as a diplomat and my participation in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio and the 2002 Johannesburg Summit, I was well aware of the importance of these programs to diplomatic and public policy decision making.”
Lafer also touched on technological research and the building of closer ties between academia and the productive sector. “FAPESP enjoys autonomy but hasn’t shut itself up in an ivory tower cut off from the real needs and challenges of our state,” he said. “As for me, although I’ve long been a professor at the University of São Paulo with deep roots in the academic community, I’ve also had experience in the world of production. During my administration, I paid close attention to the links between the world of knowledge and the world of production. These links are a legitimate concern of São Paulo State Governor Geraldo Alckmin, as they were for his predecessor, Governor José Serra. Of course, when I took office, FAPESP already had programs to foster innovation research by small business and cooperation with locally owned and foreign companies, but these were strengthened and extended significantly under my administration. And this connection between the worlds of knowledge and production is also enhanced by other programs. For example, the ethanol production chain and the knowledge required to address its challenges are a major focus for BIOEN, but the program is also important for its outcomes, which include job creation.”
Dialogue between cultures
Lafer also underscored the support given by FAPESP under his administration to communication in its role as “translator” in the dialogue between scientific culture and the humanities.
“As I noted in my inaugural address, I’ve always stressed the challenge of promoting a dialogue between the ‘two cultures’, of discussing and furthering interaction between science and the humanities,” he said. “The role of the humanities includes the fostering of values, pathways, guidelines, while scientific knowledge today is highly specialized and cannot be easily grasped by many people. Their separation dates from the eighteenth century. José Bonifácio, the Patriarch of Brazil’s Independence, straddled both worlds with ease. He was a distinguished scientist and mineralogist, but he was also deeply interested in literature.”
Science popularization is an important part of FAPESP’s activities, Lafer continued. “We need to ‘translate’ scientific knowledge into accessible language in order to combat the Tower of Babel, the great myth of incommunicability,” he said. “Addressing this challenge should clearly be seen as part of FAPESP’s mission in so far as communication is concerned. And the activities of Agência FAPESP, the Foundation’s news agency with more than 110,000 subscribers to its daily updates and complete editions in Spanish and English, and by Pesquisa FAPESP, our monthly magazine, constitute an effort to facilitate this dialogue between cultures.”
Support for researchers
In recent years, FAPESP has engaged in an intense process of migrating the management of the research projects it supports from paper to electronic media. Almost all grant and scholarships proposals are now submitted via the internet and processed by FAPESP’s Online Management Support System (Sistema de Apoio a Gestão, SAGe).
“This means researchers can do more work to higher standards of quality and in less time. It also means our researchers are participating fully in the digital age,” Lafer said.
“Researchers often complain of too much paperwork and form filling, which takes up too much time and interrupts work on their projects. But it’s important to stress that FAPESP is a public institution funded by public money and as such is required to be transparently accountable for its use of that money. This is why our procedures must be detailed and thorough. We have to report to the public prosecutor’s office, the state audit court and the state assembly.
“But, in my view, the universities should create researcher support centers staffed by qualified people to do this paperwork and assist researchers in other ways. FAPESP constantly insists on this: whenever we award research funding of any kind, we always require the partner institution to undertake to provide assistance for its researchers. Other measures implemented by FAPESP in the same direction in recent years include encouraging universities and research institutions in São Paulo State to set up Institutional Researcher Support Offices (EAIPs).
“I also consider our Virtual Library, BV-FAPESP, which currently boasts over 4.5 million visits per year, a major form of support for researchers, who can use it to access information on all the research projects funded by FAPESP and their results. Without it, they would be unable to access all this information,” Lafer said. BV-FAPESP currently has 200,000 records of research grants and scholarships granted by FAPESP since its inception, as well as more than 100,000 pages dedicated to individual researchers and grantees.
“Another salient feature of my administration is the Code of Good Scientific Practice, which is also a means of knowledge self-organization that extends beyond internal aspects of the community while expressing our concern with the community and the need to foster best practice. This results from growth in the numbers of researchers and projects,” Lafer said.
Lafer also highlighted the importance of FAPESP’s Board of Trustees and Executive Board during his two terms. “I often recall a quote from Teilhard de Chardin of which Governor Franco Montoro was fond: ‘Everything that rises must converge’. That’s what I strove to bring about. I pursued convergence based on the conviction that both boards share an interest in achieving the ends and purposes of the organization,” he said. “I believe I enjoyed extraordinary support from the Board of Trustees, which helped me enormously in this process. My relationship with the Executive Board was excellent and highly constructive, especially with Professors Joaquim José de Camargo Engler and Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, who worked with me throughout the period at the head of the Administrative and Scientific Departments, respectively. This teamwork extended to CEOs Ricardo Brentani and José Arana Varela. It was a period of outstanding harmony and convergence.
“Many people ask what the President of FAPESP does. FAPESP’s bylaws require its President to represent the institution. This is different from a corporation or company, which has a board of directors that sets strategies and guidelines, and an executive committee that runs the organization accordingly. The President of FAPESP’s Board of Trustees is also the President of the Foundation and represents it. What does this mean? Part of the President’s role is legal representation, which entails signing contracts, bidding notices, international agreements and the like. These commitments are the President’s responsibility as FAPESP’s legal representative, so he or she must want to do this as well as enjoying the institution’s support. Another part is political representation, which entails defending the institution’s interests, including without question the preservation of its autonomy and the quality of its governance.
“We’re obliged to account for everything we do all the time. FAPESP’s Annual Reports embody this accountability and transparency, presenting all the relevant data on our activities during each calendar year. This also has another dimension. São Paulo’s constitution requires FAPESP to report every year to the state assembly by testifying before its Science & Technology Committee.
“Symbolic representation is another part of the role. The President represents FAPESP’s significance to the scientific community, to society, the state and the entire country. This is a very important dimension of the President’s duties, and of course the qualifications of the person appointed to hold the office must be suited to this symbolic representation.
“It is also the President’s job to oversee implementation of the guidelines set by the Board of Trustees in terms of the organization’s internal operating principles and methods, which means interacting with the Executive Board. When I took office, the President was already invited to sit in on meetings of the Executive Board, and I continued to do that constantly and regularly with great harmony. Not that I had any intention of substituting for any of the Executive Board’s members in performing their duties. I merely wanted to help translate the strategies, policies and guidelines set by the trustees into specific managerial goals and procedures.
“I came here from a background in law and the humanities. My presence as President was a recognition of the relevance and importance of human sciences in FAPESP’s overall activities. I also have experience in the world of manufacturing and industry, where research is very important. Furthermore, it was very useful to have served on the Board of Trustees in the period 2003-07 because when I took office as President I was already fully cognizant of the institution’s new dimension.”
José Goldemberg has served as Rector of the University of São Paulo (1986-90), Presidential Secretary for Science & Technology (1990-91), Minister of Education (1991-92), Presidential Secretary for the Environment (1992), and São Paulo State Environment Secretary (2002-06). He is a former professor at the Universities of São Paulo, Paris (France) and Princeton (USA). He is the author of many important technical writings and several books on nuclear physics, energy and the environment.
“FAPESP’s new President, Professor Goldemberg, is a distinguished researcher and a person with outstanding qualities,” Lafer said. “He has headed USP, a highly innovative university, which still benefits today from the excellence of his administration and his statesman-like vision. He is also an expert in dealing with public policy problems, having held high office in the state and federal governments.
“Professor Goldemberg has many outstanding qualities and an international presence of immense importance. He’s one of the leading names in Brazilian science and is recognized as a front-ranking figure in the area of energy. He will unquestionably give FAPESP even more weight and depth as its President."
Lessons learned daily
“For anyone who operates in São Paulo State’s academic community, FAPESP is a benchmark and an inspiration,” Lafer said. “I was privileged to participate in FAPESP’s inception, thanks to Professors Oscar Sala and Paulo Vanzolini, who invited me to give opinions and discuss research priorities, including the relationship between prompted and unprompted initiatives.
“As I end my two terms of office, I’d like to stress that working at FAPESP during all these years has been akin to a day-to-day postdoctoral fellowship in which I’ve learned lessons every single day. For anyone with curiosity, that’s wonderful.”
Celso Lafer is Professor Emeritus of the University of São Paulo (USP) and its International Relations Institute, and until his retirement in 2011 he was Full Professor at its Law School’s Department of Philosophy & General Theory of Law. He studied at the Law School (1960-64) and taught international law and legal philosophy there from 1971. He has a masters degree (1967) and a PhD (1970) in political science from Cornell University (USA).
Lafer is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (elected 2004), the Brazilian Academy of Letters (elected 2006) and the São Paulo State Academy of Letters (elected 2014). In 2002, he was awarded the National Order of Scientific Merit.
He is a former Foreign Minister (1992 and 2001-02) and Minister of Development, Industry & Trade (1999). From 1995 to 1998, he was Ambassador and Head of Brazil’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva. At the WTO, he chaired the Dispute Settlement Body (1996) and General Council (1997).
He has been awarded honorary doctoral degrees by Argentina’s University of Buenos Aires (2001), National University of Cordoba (2002) and February Third University (2011); France’s Jean Moulin University Lyon 3 (2012); Israel’s Haifa University (2014); and England’s Birmingham University (2014). He is an Honorary Fellow of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2006).