Uncertainty is common in current times, and we had our fair share of crises; the latest was the global financial crisis, more than a decade ago. At the time, the future seemed dark, since unemployment increased and many companies closed. However, we – INESC TEC and the country – remained resilient, evolving and coming out on top: bigger and a significantly better. And since the European Innovation Scoreboard included Portugal and the Northern region in the group of “strong innovators” in 2019, we, at INESC TEC, have the right to believe that we have helped making this possible.
In March of this year, we realised that Portugal would not avoid the pandemic crisis, which turned out to be global. Moreover, we became aware that this crisis would be colossal, different from the previous one, and that nobody knew very well what to expect. Reacting, making quick decisions and protecting everyone from the effects of the pandemic were our top priorities. Implementing telework for almost a thousand people, in just a few days, is anything but trivial, but we managed to do it smoothly; and we would like to thank everyone for their unique planning and operational skills.
As soon as lockdown began, we started thinking about ways of being useful, by offering everything we have and know to help fighting this pandemic. 3-D printers worked around the clock to help U.Porto teams manufacture visors that hospitals so greatly required, but also to make parts for an emergency ventilator, due to the imminent threat of hospitals running out of equipment. Soon, the projects multiplied: the Diaries of a Pandemic, with ISPUP and Público, the disinfection robot and many others. All of them were initiatives carried out by our researchers and Centres. Finally, perhaps the biggest challenge of all: being responsible for the development of the national digital tracing application, following to the participation in the European consortium that developed the DP3^T protocol. As these were not normal times, INESC TEC did much more than expected for a R&D institution: on behalf of the health authorities and with the help of Keyruptive and Ubirider, it operationalised the entire system at national level.
Nevertheless, and despite mobilising skills and resources to fight against the pandemic, the Institute did not ignore the ongoing commitments. The life of the institution – presenting projects, proposals and publications – went on, tirelessly, always ensuring the employees’ well-being. The application to become an Associate Laboratory, the 2021 Activity Plan and Budget, the work carried out with the Scientific and Business Advisory Boards, the periodic reporting of activity and budget control were planned and presented with the usual commitment and thoroughness.
With the light of the vaccines at the end of a tunnel that we do not know, we now feel even more capable, and part of an institution that was able to learn from surprises, reacting to hardship, while adapting and preparing for even greater uncertainty.
And we are very proud, because INESC TEC, being at the forefront of science and knowledge contributions to public policies in Portugal, particularly during this pandemic, reinforced its connection to society, the country and the Portuguese people.
The prospects for a recovery in 2021 have been improving in recent weeks, with the multiple good news in the fields of treatment, vaccination and diagnosis. It seems increasingly likely that an effective combination of these options will be identified in the short term, and allow governments to begin lifting restrictions and high levels of collective confidence to return.
But the recovery paths in different areas of society and economy, and in different regions, will not be linear and still hold considerable uncertainty. Science was critical in 2020 to our response to the pandemic, and to allow us to stand at the end of this year in a scenario better than the more optimistic views of many experts. As scientific community we will also have to be engaged in this new phase of healing the social and economic wounds caused by the pandemic.
The European Union and the Portuguese State will devote an exceptional amount of resources to this recovery already as of 2021. Our public service calling requires us to participate from the very beginning in the first line of this effort to support the European and national society and economy.
On the other hand, these wounds are also real in the daily lives of each of us, in our personal lives and in our workplaces. In this realm we have also known, as a community and as an institution, how to look and act inward, paying attention to the needs and caring for each one of us, with a determination that we see clearly projected forward, with everyone’s commitment.
The coming year will challenge us in these dimensions of service and community, but these have always been key to INESC TEC, as our purpose and institutional thrust. 2021 can therefore be sure to count on us, with the best of our science and innovation capabilities, guided by our relentless spirit of service, and as a community united and engaged around our fundamental values: social responsibility, cooperation, research freedom, innovation excellence, and people first and foremost.
On behalf of the Board of Directors, we would like to thank the “Inestec_ianos” who made all these achievements possible in 2020 and make us feel confident for 2021, a year of great challenges and transformations, which we hope will be much better for all of us.
Happy Holidays and an excellent 2021 for you and your families!
José Manuel Mendonça (Chairman of the Board) and João Claro (Chief Executive Officer)