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[BOGOTÁ] The vice-president of Colombia, Francisco Santos, has put his weight behind the country's National System of Innovation as a way to help the country compete on the international stage. 

Speaking at a forum on innovation in Barranquilla in northern Colombia earlier this month (3 July), Santos said the country needs to rapidly accelerate the progress of its innovation system, which was launched in the early 1990s.

He proposed three goals for the system: turning Colombia into a knowledge society, building an innovation agenda and constantly looking for new opportunities.

"What we are doing is not enough," he told SciDev.Net. The biggest agent for change, he added, is the existing National Service of Learning (SENA), which helps small- and medium-sized businesses with skills for innovation and technology transfer.

Santos' announcement was well-received by the science and technology community as a sign that the government is taking innovation seriously.

"We are in the first row of supporters," says Jorge Cano, director of technological development and innovation at Colombia's Administrative Department of Science, Technology and Innovation (Colciencias).

Cano says the vice-president's lead is a great help to Colciencias, particularly in the light of legislation passed in January this year that gave the agency ministry status and added 'innovation' to its title (see Colombia increases status of science and technology).

He adds that three areas also prioritised by Santos at the forum — biodiversity, clean energy and the creative industries — are in line with those identified by Colciencias as the most important.

Álvaro Turriago Hoyos, an expert in innovation issues and research director of economics and business administration at Colombia's University of the Savannah, says the vice-president's announcement is very positive and there is growing support for innovation among Colombia's leaders.

"Industries need radical changes in favour of innovation strategies for growing competitiveness, and a culture that backs up patents, intellectual property and respect for copyright, among others," he says.

Campo Elías Bernal, who was director of technology development at Colciencias in the 1990s, welcomes the vice-president's ideas but questions whether the emphasis on innovation and competitiveness will be strong enough for Colombia to fund science and technology that will meet the social and economic needs of the country.