Developing nations hailed as most efficient innovators


Developing countries are the most efficient innovators, achieving results in areas such as scientific research, infrastructure and technology production with relatively low inputs, according to ‘The Global Innovation Index 2013’, launched on July 1st at the High Level Segment of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), in Geneva, Switzerland.

The annual report, published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Cornell University in the US and global business school INSEAD, analyses the inputs – elements of the national economy that enable innovative activities – and innovation outputs of 142 national innovation systems based on seven indicators.

These are: institutional frameworks for fostering business and growth; human capital and research; infrastructure, including information and communications technologies and environmental sustainability; market sophistication; business sophistication; knowledge and technology outputs; and creative outputs.

By measuring the ratio between innovation inputs and outputs on these indicators, the index found that eight developing nations – Mali, Guinea, Swaziland, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kuwait, Costa Rica and Venezuela – are among the top ten most efficient innovators. This is an improvement on the 2012 tally of up four developing nations

The results show that despite weaknesses – especially for the indicators related to institutional frameworks and market sophistication – poor nations were capable of achieving remarkable innovation outputs, according to Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, a senior economist at WIPO and an author of the report. He told SciDev.Net that this is testament to the strong adaptability of innovators in developing countries

However, an “innovation divide” persists because overall innovation levels still fall well short of those of richer nations. Nevertheless a high efficiency score can still be achieved with low levels of innovation, so this does not necessarily signify a productive and healthy innovation environment, he warns.

Although numerous developing countries, including two of the least developed – Cambodia and Uganda – are making significant strides forward, overall innovation levels remain strongly linked to national income, the report notes.

The fact that the list of the top 25 innovators is the same as 2012 and is made up solely of high-income countries shows that developing nations still face serious obstacles to progress, the report says.

“The science system is often not connected to any actors in the private sector able to transform science or R&D into tangible innovations,” says Wunsch-Vincent.

Forum Spotlights Role of Science, Technology and Innovation for Development

Innovations in science and technology will be vital for tackling today’s global challenges, from reducing poverty to ensuring sustainable development, top United Nations officials stressed, as they kicked off the ECOSOC annual substantive session, which runs from July 1st to 26th.

“Science, technology, innovation and culture can significantly impact each of the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental,” said the President of ECOSOC, Ambassador Néstor Osorio of Colombia.

“They present huge opportunities. But effectively channelling them for sustainable development also poses significant challenges,” he added, addressing the opening of the four-day high-level segment, which this year is focusing on science, technology and innovation, or STI.

“The steadily increasing pace of technological innovation makes ours an era of a long profound change… So many fields of human endeavour – medicine, energy, agriculture – have made significant, even drastic, improvements in just a few generations,” noted Mr. Osorio.

“Yet, in the field of development, despite our progress, there are still over one billion people living in extreme poverty. And tonight many, if not most, will go to bed hungry,” he added.

“This raises the question: How can the world’s intelligence, creativity and energy – the kind that brought us smart phones, digital imagery and the global positioning system – be fostered and harnessed to address today’s major development challenges?”

The need for innovation is clear, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told participants.

“Every development success has drawn in large measure from absorbing knowledge, technology and ideas and adapting them to local conditions. In other words, by innovating.”

“Ultimately,” he continued, “a successful development strategy must build extensive innovation capacities that address local challenges and foster growth.”

He added that many solutions for sustainable development are waiting to be scaled up, but this requires the right incentives and ensuring that knowledge and information are shared in a collaborative, open and problem-solving manner.

“Young people deserve special attention and support,” said Mr. Ban. “Their passion, creativity, energy and innovation will help to bring new solutions to old problems.”

The Secretary-General noted that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been one of the greatest innovations in the history of development work. A progress report shows that while a number of successes on key MDG targets have already been met, or are within close reach by 2015, serious challenges remain.

“We must intensify our efforts, particularly to tackle the disparities across regions and between different social groups… The future we want is within reach. Let us innovate together to achieve it,” Mr. Ban stated.

Vuk Jeremić, President of the UN General Assembly, said at the opening of the high-level segment that the ever-increasing interdependence at the global level, brought about by new forms of communication, required a stronger commitment by Member States to work in concert to face challenges and advance the greater good of the world.

A revitalized General Assembly and a reformed ECOSOC could lead the UN in setting the world on a more equitable, prosperous and environmentally sound path, he added.

Entrepreneurship Grants

The US has announced a three-year commitment to support President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, beginning in October 2013.

The Initiative is President Obama’s effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders, launched in 2010. Its new flagship programme, the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, announced on June 29th, is designed to support young African entrepreneurs in ways that accelerate economic growth and strengthen democratic institutions across Africa.

The US African Development Foundation (USADF) will award up to 200 young Africans taking part in the Washington Fellows programme from 2014 to 2016 with $25,000 entrepreneurship grants to initiate or expand their business and social enterprises in their home countries. USADF will help ensure that the opportunity to participate extends to the best and the brightest, even in remote and marginalized communities in Africa.

USADF is a US government-funded public corporation that supports African-originated solutions to generate jobs, increase incomes and raise living standards in Africa. It has a 30-year track record of fostering solutions to locally identified problems that are implemented by Africans.

Obama announced the Washington Fellows programme at a town hall meeting with students in Johannesburg, South Africa, during his three-nation Africa trip in June.

“We’ll focus on civic leadership and public administration and business and entrepreneurship, the skills you need to serve your communities and start and grow businesses and run effective ministries,” he said.

The White House fact sheet on the Young African Leaders Initiative notes the critical need to invest in the next generation of African leaders to ensure the success of Africa’s democracies and its economies. One in three Africans is between the ages of 10 and 24, and approximately 60% of Africa’s total population is below the age of 35.

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today