For this edition of Alumni Watch, we caught up with Dr. Andres Mideros Mora of Ecuador, who graduated from our PhD programme in December 2017. He defended his thesis, ‘Essays on the Economic Effects of Non-contributory Social Protection’, while taking a short break from his role as Minister of Planning and Development of Ecuador.
You completed your PhD while serving as a minister. How did you juggle all your responsibilities?
It was challenging, but I think it was a good example of relating academia with policymaking. In my case I’ve had the opportunity of working on both sides. When I was in Cambodia, we did research with UNICEF, we presented it to the government, and they started implementing it. Also when I was doing my research in Ecuador I had the chance to work with policymakers and to promote the implementation of social protection and policy changes in the social transfer programme, Bono de Desarrollo Humano (Human Development Assistance).
I then wrote a concept note to the [presidential] candidate Lenin Moreno at the end of last year and he took it, he proposed it to the population, and he won the election. After that he called me and invited me to be part of his cabinet So, yes, it’s something that needs a lot of your personal time; but it benefits both sides. I was able to bring field experience to academia and take from academia knowledge, research and international evidence to make policy decisions more efficient.
As a minister, you’re now able to implement some of your research. How challenging has that been?
We have one proposal that was approved by the president and discussed with the cabinet. But then you experience real life and real politics and actually it’s just about being there at the right time and having the window to push through and implement the proposals. So that is what we are doing right now.
As Minister of Planning I have the opportunity to get involved in the design of social policies. We have budget constraints and politics going on, so we need to have a lot of patience, actually, to do things step-by-step. I think we’re going in the right direction. Probably we will see in the coming months the whole proposal being implemented and, again, we’ll have the chance to test and share knowledge from academia — and see how policy decisions can improve how we deal with poverty.
What exactly do policymakers want? What advice would you give other researchers and PhD fellows?
When we take policy decisions what we need from academia is knowledge. If you’re doing research or a PhD, then that means creating new knowledge. But that knowledge has to be useful for society. We have problems, so we need innovation and we need technology, but we also have social issues like quality of education, quality of health, and also the efficiency we need to eradicate poverty and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
I think academia should be looking at real problems of real people — i.e. making knowledge useful in solving the problems of human beings. From policymakers what we need is for them to be open to receive this knowledge and to receive criticism. It is not possible for policymakers to evaluate themselves; we need academia to evaluate what we are doing and to help make it better.
From politics what we’re looking for is to improve the quality of life of the population. I think that in the end academics and policymakers and governments share the same objective; but we have to push together. Probably what we need from academia is to make knowledge more available — it has to be understandable for policymakers to receive it and to use it.
You mentioned the SDGs. Do you think Ecuador and Latin America will achieve the 2030 Agenda?
I think it’s possible, but we’ll need to work on Goal 17, which talks about alliances and financing for development. Low and middle income countries need more resources, but not only that — we need to think about redistribution, globally.
We need to make sure that the resources are available for development and that any investments are efficient and transparent. Overall we need to make sure that the resources are available. That means we need to think not only from the perspective of economic growth but also from the perspective of redistribution and where the money is going.
We have thousands of millions of dollars that are going out from developing countries to developed ones — and we need that money back to be implemented in social policies, in productivity, to promote structural change in the economy and innovation. We need a global alliance to promote development all around the world.
This text was edited for clarity. See the video for the original version.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / H.Pijpers