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Business Home > Opinion Analysis
Driving the innovation economy

29 April 2012

Mankind is living in times of opportunities unprecedented. Two major drivers that have brought us to this point are invention and innovation.

Together, these complementary forces will yet shape the way we live, learn, communicate and do business in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected. And if the future belongs to innovators, then the UAE should now accelerate the perfecting of the ecosystem that will enable it to strike for that gold.

Wikipedia defines innovation as “the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a new idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.”

Thus, though the creation of the light bulb was a historic invention, its innovation into a compact fluorescent and LED version, which is longer-lasting, less energy-intensive and brighter is also revolutionary.

Innovation is increasingly being recognised as the key driver that can deliver economic progress and foster healthy competitiveness across nations. In that sense, innovation has taken on a much broader meaning, as it is no longer the exclusive domain of R&D laboratories and science. Today, innovation has assumed vital social and business dimensions, especially so in the emerging areas of the world, where most of the earth’s population lives, and wherefrom must come the bulk of the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators. It is no co-incidence that countries that are highly prosperous are also very active on the innovation front. Throwing light on this co-relation is ‘The Global Innovation Index 2011,’ (GII) published by Insead, one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools. As per the GII’s rankings, twenty-eight of the top 30 nations that excel in innovation are also high income countries. And while the UAE too enjoys one of the highest GDP in the world, it was positioned 34th out of a list of 125 countries when it comes to innovation overall.

The Index reveals that the UAE ranked well on certain pillars that foster innovation: institutional stability, human capital, information and communication technologies (ICT) infrastructure, business sophistication, creative intangibles, and trade and competition, but needed to focus more on another key component, namely, scientific outputs.

What is remarkable is that a nation’s innovation quotient is not dependent on its size. Just observe which countries are the world’s leading innovators according to the GII: Switzerland (ranked at 1), Sweden (ranked at 2) Hong Kong (ranked at 4), Austria (ranked at 19) and Cyprus (ranked at 28) — all of them being countries with a population comparable to that of the UAE’s. On the other side, the UAE outperforms substantially bigger countries like Brazil (ranked at 47) and India (ranked at 62), as per the same Index.

There are several things the UAE can do to leap frog into becoming a nation of enterprising innovators. Indeed, steps have already been taken in this direction, as the Government’s effort to progress the country in the direction of a knowledge-based economy has brought admirable results. The UAE also has one of the richest pools of global talent. Focus must now be directed to strategic areas that will invigorate this talent pool to a higher level of innovation, namely, education, R&D, deployment of suitable technology, government-backed incentives, and the corresponding business mind-set.

Since universities are the breeding ground for tomorrow’s innovators, the region should attract and leverage the brightest minds in academia and drive industry-institution interaction to promote fundamental research in all areas of science and arts. Governments could catalyse the process by providing additional incentives to foster such relationships. The UAE business community too is stepping up to the challenge. According to reliable sources, 93 per cent of business executives quoted innovation as a top strategic priority. Achieving profitable growth and reducing costs are the predominant reasons cited behind the desire to innovate. 

Companies also need to unlock the innovative potential in their most important asset: their people. This calls for a work place that inspires, coupled with a mind-set committed to investment in R&D and training. And savvy executives know that funding innovation in a vacillating economy allows them to remain competitive during difficult times and pushes them significantly ahead when the economy improves.

A vibrant economy that has a strong innovative streak would lead to generation of jobs. The UAE has a vast reserve of human talent and a potential of many factors in its ecosystem that, if fine-tuned with skill and determination, will ultimately position it as one of the most innovation-rich countries on earth.

The writer is the chairman and founder of UniPropitia, and speaker at Dubai Internet City’s monthly ‘Excellence Series’ held in Dubai. Views expressed by the author are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy


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