13 March 2011

Soft Landings and International Applied Research

I traveled recently to Brazil as part of George Brown College's international education outreach. While there, I met with the research offices and faculty of three institutions with whom we are developing international education partnerships. Our core mandate of giving students applied research experience as a vital component of their education fits the Brazilian context very well. The development of innovation literacy is a global core competency for international economic and social development.

In 2004 Brazil enacted the Law of Innovation, an explicit attempt by the government of Brazil to foster business innovation and academic and industry partnerships. I was struck by the parallels with Brazil and Canada - each are encouraging academic-industry partnerships as mechanisms to foster productivity improvement and the diffusion of innovation across their national economies. Brazil's Law of Innovation offers funding and political support for business innovation as linked to academic knowledge transfer and expertise deployment.

The parallels between Canada's and Brazil's fostering of business innovation makes international education an attractive proposition for Brazilian students wishing to learn in Canada about how we promote innovation literacy through industry applied research. Students acquire innovation literacy and entrepreneurship as a by-product of the development of the core skills relevant to their job-ready programs. We have an incredible opportunity to learn from and with our Brazilian counterparts in the applied research space. Canada has perhaps more history of academic-industry collaborative applied research - this is something international students will gain through study in Canada, particularly if this study includes the opportunity to work on industry applied research. These students can then apply what they learned to Brazilian social and economic development. Canadian polytechnics and colleges can learn from the emergent nature of the Brazilian economy, and add value to applied research through a deeper understanding of contexts such as exists in Brazil. The sheer magnitude of Brazil's population makes their markets very attractive for Canadian companies. It is the opportunities in the Brazilian market, contiguous with providing education that will foster innovation throughout international study, that are key for international economic cooperation and development.

One institution I visited was the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS), which is home to TechnoPUC - the technology transfer and business innovation arm of PUCRS. What impressed me most about TechnoPUCS - besides their impressive track record in a short time and the quality and number of partner firms working there - was their commitment to business innovation as a driver of social and economic productivity development. Most importantly, I learned about what they call the "soft landing" for companies seeking to enter Brazil's markets. This is an interesting and innovative approach to economic development, one that acknowledges the emergent role of Brazil's economy, and leverages the interests of academic institutions as oriented toward enabling international companies to understand and thus succeed in Brazil. There is a direct correlation between the idea of the soft landing in Brazil and conducting applied research using the principles of human-centred design. That is, both offer an avenue of applied research and social and economic development through keen understanding of local conditions that will enable success. This is a form of people-centred innovation laudable for its focus on the development and support of international companies and the development writ large of Brazil's economy, and so social infrastructure. This is a very forward-thinking approach that mobilizes the innovative capacity of academic institutions to support national productivity growth goals. It mirrors the instrumental approach we take to aiding business innovation through applied research here in Canada:
The key for college applied research is instrumentality, or the intentional application of applied research and innovation services to industry needs and contexts. This means that we are focused on addressing the industry problems faced by firms who are seeking to innovate and create new value in their sectors. We are an explicit instrument for addressing these industry problems, meaning that we respond to what is needed, fitting into the R&D continuum for latter stage innovation support.
CONII, and indeed the entire Ontario Network of Excellence, is similarly oriented to providing soft landings - and/or launchings - to Canadian companies. This concept is one that needs deployment on a national scale, something George Brown College and many others have pointed out in submissions to the R&D Review Panel.

The connection between national approaches to integrating business innovation within economic development activities and the connection to education, as noted above, are important here. Entire workforces equipped with innovation literacy are a main driver of national economies and a strong predictor of future productivity and innovation. The multiplier effect that college and polytechnic graduates provide to our own national workforce is a key component of the college and polytechnic advantage, and a signal opportunity for international students to learn from while studying here in Canada. The global innovation economy stands to benefit from this approach.

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