Interview with Glenda Mezarobba, CNPq Institutional Cooperation Director


In this interview, Mezarobba talks about international cooperation and the strengthening of Science, Technology and Innovation (CT&I) in Brazil and in the world

“Sometimes, Science can bring countries or regions closer together in a way that other diplomatic relations sometimes won’t be able to”, affirms Glenda Mezarobba, the Director of Institutional Cooperation at the National Council of Science and Technology Development (CNPq), in an interview for the International Relations Division at the Brazilian Institute of Information, Science and Technology (Ibict).

Holding a Master’s degree and a PhD in Political Science from the University of São Paulo, and also a post-doctorate from University of Campinas, Mezarobba works especially for Human Rights affairs. Besides the experience with Human Rights, Mezarobba is known for her work as Director of Human and Social Sciences at the Supporting Research Foundation of São Paulo State (FAPESP) between 2010 and 2012, and also for her past two years in the National Truth Commission for the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil.

In this interview, Mezarobba talks about international cooperation and the strengthening of Science, Technology and Innovation (CT&I) in Brazil and in the world. She also talks about the Science Without Borders Programme.

Check out the interview (written and extended version below) or click here to watch it on Youtube (in Portuguese).

In your opinion, what is the relevance of international cooperation in CT&I for Brazil?

Nowadays it is impossible to think about science without an international component and partnership. For some time, science has been structured in the form of a network. In Brazil, this means building it in different regions of the country, and with overseas partnerships. I think at least since the Renascence science was already believed to be something international, but recently it has become impossible to think about science without the existence of an exchange capable of crossing borders. The dialogue on knowledge does not have geographical limits, in contrast to how we got used to think about the world. Scientific cooperation with other countries is inherent to science: it is part of science’s natural course and part of reflection and research. Furthermore, when we think about innovation, it is impossible to conceive it without thinking about what this network of cultural exchange can provide.

Are the current international cooperation activities in the area of CT&I sufficient? If not, how can that be improved?

Brazil is very uneven in all areas, also in C,T&I this can be noticed. There are certainly some knowledge areas where the desirable international dialogue is not yet developed. On the other hand, there are other knowledge areas where this is already very well structured. With some countries, we have strongly consolidated relations for cooperation, but cooperation is still to be built with other ones. This is a very interesting feature. We can observe that, as an area of knowledge becomes more consolidated, it is almost inevitable for it to be more engaged in partnerships and international cooperation. It is hard to identify an area in which Brazil is in the cutting-edge in which, at some moment, it didn’t have a strong international cooperation. In the past, Brazil used to send their researchers to other countries to acquire knowledge. Today, when we think of science, we relate it to exchange, to cooperation. We don’t want unilateral actions, we want other researchers from other countries to come to Brazil too, and we want them to think of collaborative research projects, and to discoveries and brainwork to be made in groups, because this is the way it works the best.

In Brazil, how can we identify those areas and its priorities for international cooperation in CT&I?

If we think of a subject, I believe the area will manifest by itself. There are matters that transcend national borders, not only in the field of science, but also geopolitics and international relations, subjects like energy and water.

For example, recently, we have seen Pope Francis talking about these subjects, and emphasizing the need for knowledge area to be worked on and thought for the benefit of all humanity. On the other hand, there are matters that are very specific and regional, or even local, such as ore mines which some countries have and others don’t. We are working on this in Brazil, and it is already well structured, but it can be improved. We need to be more connected to the networks and to researches. We also need a better understanding about what is being studied, so we can work together.

At CNPq we have the help of tools, like the Lattes Platform, which gathers curriculums of researchers from all over Brazil. This is very unique because most countries don’t have it. This platform allows us to find out easily who is doing research on a given subject in Brazil. These are challenges that we face not only in fields of knowledge, but also in our social life. We are living in an era where society produces a lot of information, but sometimes it overlaps in some areas more than others. Furthermore, there is a great need to organize information, to make it more accessible, to avoid wasting efforts, for example, in a case where someone is working to discover something that another person have already discovered.

How important is the Science Without Borders Programme? How could its actions collaborate for a better cooperation in the areas of CT&I between Brazil and other countries?

Science Without Borders started about four years ago, during the current administration. It is a project that started under a lot of negative criticism. I am particularly enthusiastic about it because this project has allowed more than one hundred thousand students and researchers to study abroad. Although, regarding the project’s first phase – which had more then ten thousand students – we are still in a stage of analyses, what we have noticed so far is that the project has a great impact on students’ life. Most of them, maybe the majority, had never traveled abroad before. They usually get accesses to highly qualified structure of and teaching and research. This concretely opens a new universe for them.

We can also mention the language aspect, especially when students go to countries where the language is very distinct from ours, and we understand that a language is not solely a phonetic code, but rather a way of seeing the world we live in. So, when one learns a new language, this person also is magnifying his or her way of seeing the world.

We have some interesting data. After the launch of Science Without Borders, the demand for language courses increased 20% in Brazil. Naturally, when these students return to Brazil, they bring back a network of connections that they have created while abroad, connections with others students or researchers in their areas of knowledge from all over the world. This often generates a long-term connection. Not to mention connections built with professors, tutors and supervisors from the places where they had been based, these connections can facilitate academic and scientific networking too. We have received school reports that say Brazilian students are very interested and committed.  

Overall, we have noticed that they take great advantage of this opportunity. Also, we understand that experiences lived as a young adult have a great impact for the rest of our lives. We are living a period of exacerbated critics on anything and everything, where nothing works and nothing is good enough, but when we put it under perspective, they can find many interesting things and also realize that some things that work better here than in another country. It is clear, there are countries better developed in some specific areas, including science. However, we also make good science.

Another interesting point – one that science has been accomplishing more and more – is what some authors refer as a diplomatic role. Science enables dialogue among countries in fields in which, sometimes, traditional diplomacy fails to perform because they are too intricate. It is a form of soft power that, in reality, is not that soft.

What is the potential of knowledge and information to solve the global issues with the aid of cooperation in CT&I to solve these issues?

It is a very interesting point because the world is connected in all senses, either for the good or for the bad. It is impossible to escape that. This connection is increasing more and more, particularly with social networks and large scale access to the Internet. This expands any frontier that we can possible think of and it changes the way we understand, for example, education, from small kids to a highly qualified researcher. I can work in a lab here in some specific areas of knowledge and at the same time have a researcher in Greenland working on the same topic, we can work together in real time.

Information also – it is a lot harder to retain information’s flow. It is much easier today, for example, to follow what someone is doing even if you haven’t met this person. This changes the world on an indelible way. That means the clock cannot be turned back. Governance and public politics are also changing. Generally, science always works with acquired knowledge in order to leap to another level. This connection and this possibility to access information and make it spin is unique. We are living in a very particular moment for structured knowledge, and there is no doubt that, in the future, when someone from the science field looks back and studies this period , some turning points in favor of good science will be very clear.