To have an impact on the real world, research needs to be inter-connected, sustainable and scalable, drawing expertise from a variety of sectors and disciplines to work toward a common purpose – as opposed to isolated in some highly specialized academic silo. In today’s Knowledge Transfers, we explore interesting models of issue-based binational collaboration.
Case in point: Collaborative research on opium production
While Mexico is a major player in global opium and heroin production, there are significant gaps in our understanding of that production, and its effects on politics, development and social issues in Mexico and beyond. That’s where the Mexico Opium Project comes in.
Led by Noria Research in collaboration with México Unido contra la Delincuencia, Revista Espejo, and the Center for US.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego, the project involved a total of 15 months of fieldwork in Guerrero, Nayarit, Sinaloa and Durango, centered around such questions as:
“Who are the poppy growers in Mexico? How do they live in an illicit economy? How are illicit markets regulated? How does the State behave in such territories? What is the structural weight of opium and heroin economy in Mexico? How is it articulated with licit industries and infrastructures?”
The result is collaborative, cross-border, multidisciplinary research that digs into the myths and realities behind the War on Drugs.
Numbers to know: Science literacy, nursing shortages, and collaborative grants
- 419 (MX) and 502 (US): Average scores of 15-year-old Mexican and U.S. students, respectively, on a science literacy scale (0-1000), as measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA defines science literacy as “students’ ability to engage with science-related issues, and with the ideas of science, as a reflective citizen.”
- 2.9 per 1,000 (MX) and 11.7 per 1,000 (U.S.): the number of nurses per inhabitants in Mexico and the U.S., respectively. Both countries are suffering from “a nursing shortage and large underserved communities,” according to a recent Wilson Center Mexico Institute report. “A collaborative approach to nursing education could help both governments respond to these shared challenges,” write Eduardo González-Pier and Andrew I. Rudman.
- $2.5 million: The approximate total annual funding available through the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Collaborative Research program, distributed across 20 grants. The program funds research “to advance humanistic knowledge through sustained collaboration between two or more scholars,” including scholars outside the U.S. (See also: UC MEXUS-CONACYT Collaborative Grants.)
Big questions: How can we accelerate tech entrepreneurship in North America?
Enrique Perret is the director of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation, a non-profit that promotes bilateral cooperation and understanding. On May 19th, the Foundation held a workshop in collaboration with the Amazon Web Services Institute to launch C26+, a permanent binational council focused on tech and entrepreneurial competitiveness. Enrique shared more about the initiative and his thoughts on the frameworks, challenges and opportunities for U.S.-Mexico knowledge transfers. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Through its C26+ initiative, the U.S.-Mexico Foundation has partnered with the AWS Institute “to soften the invisible frontiers of data, science, and technology and strengthen the entrepreneurial tech communities in Mexico and the North American region as a whole.” How do you plan to do this?
Enrique: In the USMCA, there is a chapter, the 26th chapter, that talks about competitiveness. It basically talks about the need to exchange ideas through committees—governmental committees and private sector committees—around competitiveness. Competitiveness is very hard to tackle, because it’s everything and it’s nothing at the same time. When we say everything, well, competitiveness is infrastructure, but it’s also talent, it’s also ports and airports, it’s also the capacity of the of the country, access to electricity, logistics…in this specific case of the USMCA, I think competitiveness relies on digital economy, innovation, technology and smart borders.
So, what we’re trying to tackle through the C26+ working group… is to have real interaction between companies on [both] side[s] of the border…., civil society, and academia…What should we do with e-commerce, with e-trade, with the cloud? What should we do in the space of the entrepreneurship and venture world?
Right now, as we speak, a lot of capital from venture funds in the US is arriving into Mexican venture funds or directly to entrepreneurs. We’ve seen two unicorns in the past two months, Kavak and Bitso… and that’s something unique, it didn’t happen in the past. We believe there is a huge space there, and we want to know what is happening, how to improve it, how to accelerate it.
You mentioned it’s a unique moment for tech and entrepreneurship, a lot of opportunities, a lot of investment. Why now? What led us here?
Enrique: In Mexico 10 years ago there were like two venture capital funds, right now you have 45… the Mexican government incentivized the creation of venture funds. Obviously, the creation of venture funds relies on good venture managers. In Mexico, we now have very good venture fund managers…
The second factor, I think, is good stories attract more good stories. When you have one unicorn and then in two months you have a second…we’re sure that more are about to come… Another factor is talent. In Mexico City, we analyzed the immigration of talent in this space of entrepreneurship. There are a lot of people from all around the world…arriving to Mexico to innovate and to create their own businesses… At least in Mexico City, you have a lot of know-how from other countries, and that’s very, very important. No country can say that they have all the knowledge inside their country, every country now relies on the know-how from other and very diverse cultures… At the end, competitiveness is the capacity to attract talent and to retain that talent…
The pandemic also gives you another factor…e-commerce in Mexico is growing at a double-digit pace. The pandemic accelerated something that was happening in Mexico, but at a much lower pace…USMCA is another factor, the signature of the USMCA, because we have some specific chapters, like [Chapter 26], like the SME (small or medium-sized enterprise) one, digital economy, financial services—and other aspects. And then the last factor is the tech race between the U.S. and China… the U.S. is looking for allies on that, I think Mexico can be part of the solution.
What are the key elements or factors for a working group or a collaboration like C26+ to actually have an impact, to be able to do good research and then make recommendations that have an impact?
Enrique: The first aspect of a successful [binational] working group…is accountability. If you don’t have bilateral goals, it will be very hard to measure the impact of the working group, and people and companies will get tired of just getting in sessions and nothing happening. We will…ask to have a scorecard, that’s very important, what to measure and how to measure that…
The second aspect is you need to have the real experts on the ground in the working room. That’s why we’re inviting the companies that are doing the work on fintech, on the VC world, on smart borders, the people on the ground that are trading, that are facilitating that trade…I hope we’re going to have three different tracks—smart borders, entrepreneurship and digital economy—in different subcommittees.
And the third factor, I think, is to communicate. You need to communicate what you’re thinking. So, if the working group can launch every period of time—15 days, one month—their recommendations on specific things, and you can have the access to the policymakers, that could be a success story for a working group…You need to start communicating well to a specific audience with specific messages.
Knowledge-Transferer to follow: Viri Ríos. In her own words, Viri “belong[s] to an emerging generation of scholars that rejects the commonly accepted idea that academia is inexorably detached from policy decisions and social mobilization.” A fellow at the International Women’s Forum, a professor at Harvard Summer School, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Viri’s work on data-informed public policy can’t be missed.