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Address by the Hon. Foreign Minister at the Conference of Scientific Attachés: “Health 4.0 and Italian-speaking innovation”

For the second consecutive year, I have the great pleasure of welcoming you to the Farnesina and to open the Conference of Italian Scientific Attachés in the world. I am particularly happy to open the working sessions together with the Minister of Education, Universities and Research, Valeria Fedeli, and the Minister of Health, Beatrice Lorenzin.  

Science and politics have one characteristic in common: the need to continuously make decisions. Governing means to choose between different options, different proposals. The same decisions must be taken by a scientist when screening data and choosing between different research approaches. And both scientists and politicians must refer to the human dimension in their practical applications. 

We could say that science and diplomacy are natural allies. There is no global challenge – from the threats to energy and food security to the fight against climate change and pandemics – that could ever deceive diplomacy into believing that could be met without the help of science.  

I profoundly believe in the great value added produced by the activity of Scientific Attachés abroad, alongside that of diplomats. It is a strategic component of the projection of Italy’s international image. It is an activity that, on the one hand, reflects its national interest; on the other hand, it represents an investment capable of guaranteeing an important economic return to our Country. And this is why we intend to expand our network of Scientific Attachés, eventually extending secondary accreditations in Countries of relevance for us.   

“Scientific diplomacy” is a “Premier League” diplomacy – which goes to complete “economic diplomacy” and “cultural diplomacy” – in a big Economic System that must perform “teamwork” everywhere in the world. This is the aim of our Extraordinary Integrated Promotion Plan. And let me recall that the latest Budget Bill provides for additional resources to be allocated to this Plan: 150 million euros for the three-year period 2017-2020, 30 million of which for 2018. 

The central theme of this Conference today is “Health 4.0 and Italian-speaking innovation”. The theme was not chosen by chance. As you know, “life sciences” are a steeply growing strategic sector worldwide, on which advanced economies are putting their stakes with a view to recovering competitiveness and achieving a higher level of wellbeing.  

We have the great luck of living in a Country that last year Bloomberg ranked among the healthiest Countries in the world. In addition, the Medical Tourism Index ranked Italy 4th in Europe and 9th in the world as destination of “medical tourism”. There is still much to do and the potential is enormous.

In the field of research, we are 5th for the quality of scientific publications in the sanitary sector, with peaks of excellence in medicine and biotechnology. And this significantly helps our “health supply chain” which, according to a recent Confindustria Report, is worth 10.7% of GDP, providing 2.4 million people with a job and attracting sizable foreign investments.  

This sector has benefited more than others from the positive “osmosis” between the world of research and of business, in line with an “open” technological model of Industry 4.0, which stimulates the different drivers of the innovation process to unite: research, training and business. 

What we intend to build together, thanks to the precious help of Scientific Attachés, is an open and extended innovation model. Precisely in order to promote this model, the Foreign Ministry, together with the MIUR and the Italian Association of University Incubators – PNI Cube, has created two awards: one destined to a researcher who distinguished himself abroad for his/her scientific activities; the other is destined to the founder of a successful start-up abroad. Today, I therefore have the pleasure of awarding a prize to two extraordinary expressions of Italian innovation.

Moreover, I would like to announce that the Foreign Ministry is working with the MIUR to update the Innovitalia platform, with the aim of continuing to connect Italian researchers in Italy and abroad with Italian companies that invest in research and innovation. I would also like to announce a new initiative that we intend to promote this year: we will organize abroad a great exhibition organised by the CNR and Italy’s major Science Museums to transmit a strong message to the world of Italy as an agent of science, technology and innovation. Therefore, I ask you to help us support all these initiatives aimed at promoting and expanding our marvellous research network in Italy and around the world.  

I am equally convinced that there are plenty of opportunities to make a further quantum leap in the quality of our international scientific cooperation. I will take the example of China, which I visited twice last year to support the “New Silk Road” project. On the one hand, to expand free trade at global level. On the other hand, to further the road of culture, science and technology. Italy has the ambition to build a “Road of Knowledge” made of connections between Asia and Europe, not only tangible but also intangible: making up an intangible network of ideas and innovations that contribute to our productivity and progress.   

There are 600 different university and scientific agreements in force between Italy and China. We must capitalize on this treasure made of trusting relations and the dissemination of knowledge. And not only in China but also in emerging markets. Tomorrow I am leaving on a new mission to Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. Also on this occasion, scientific cooperation will be at the top of my agenda because, mind you, the bilateral science and technology agreements signed in the last five years (2013-2017) have enabled us to co-finance – with the contribution of the MIUR, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Environment – more than 1,000 projects for research studies and the mobility of researchers between Italy and the rest of the world.  

Besides Asia, in terms of geography, history and culture, the enlarged Mediterranean and Africa are priority areas for scientific cooperation. In the last year alone, we have made significant progress. I am thinking, for example, of the regional SESAME project (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) thanks to which the first joint research laboratory was opened in Jordan in May 2017, involving Israeli, Iranian and Palestinian scientists, among others. And only a few days ago, I illustrated our priorities for EXPO 2020 Dubai, which will focus great attention on Italian research and innovation.

As for Africa, whose GDP grows at a rate of 3% a year, let me recall that scientific cooperation can give additional impulse to our presence in the continent. Italy is a Country that has already greatly invested in Africa’s scientific capabilities. It is now time to reap the rewards by giving new impulse to scientific cooperation. For example, let us not forget that Italy hosts the United Nations’ biggest scientific hub: Trieste’s Area Science Park. Nearly 7,000 African scientists were trained in Trieste between 2007 and 2016 and this cooperation has facilitated the establishment of 15 new Academies of Science in Africa. It is a great strategic investment to build on. 

To conclude, I would like you to leave this Conference more motivated and better aware of the support that I, the Foreign Ministry and the Government give to your actions. We are proud of you: a restricted group of scientists, selected to serve the Country through your skills and aptitudes. In science, as in diplomacy, individual skills and merit are qualities that are highlighted and measured with objectivity and precise criteria and through the achievement of results. A good scientist, just like a good diplomat, must be capable of combining studying, working, fatigue and insight; and then the courage of experimenting and also of failing. At the same time, when one is worthy, skilled and successful, it is natural to arouse a bit of envy – to say the least – or a sense of emulation among our competitors. But this must be for you and for us one more reason of joy, pride and motivation. Because your success and that of Italian science and research are also one of the reasons of the success of Italy around the world.

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