Sharing Usable Knowledge for Innovative Solutions | World Bank Institute (WBI)

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • This cross-regional collaborative learning event between the MENA Region and the ECA Region, on Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship  took place in Prague from May 21 to 23, 2012. 
  • Policy makers, business leaders, academic researchers, and NGO representatives explored the links among innovation policy, job creation, entrepreneurship, and the role of universities in commercializing technology.
  • The World Bank’s Knowledge Agenda seeks to connect data, information, and ideas with development practitioners at all levels and with communities of practice around the world. 
(c) World Bank
Interactive session during the Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship event in Prague.

June 5, 2012― In the field of development, the need to cooperate and to think  "outside the box" has never been greater. Vast poverty and the challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, unemployment, weak accountability, and giving citizens a voice in public matters demand new solutions. Innovation and the capacity to create and transform knowledge into new ways of doing things will be crucial in achieving development results. 

This was the overarching theme at the recent cross-regional collaborative learning event on Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship, which took place in Prague from May 21 to 23, 2012.

Together with CzechInvest and the Korean Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management, the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa group, its Europe and Central Asia group, and the World Bank Institute (WBI) brought in experts from the Middle East to learn from the experiences of Eastern European countries in designing and implementing successful innovation policies.

Helping Ideas Travel

Some 100 policy makers, business leaders, academic researchers, and NGO representatives explored the link between innovation policy, job creation, entrepreneurship, and the role of universities in commercializing technology.

"Innovation is a critical element of economic growth, for every nation,” said Janamitra Devan, the World Bank’s Vice President for Financial and Private Sector Development. “Evidence shows that – on average, worldwide – half of a country’s long-term growth is due to innovation and technology enhancements. Yet there is no one-size-fits-all approach to innovation:  Each country needs to take a holistic approach to shaping an innovation policy that is appropriate to its own particular conditions." 

Competing in a Global Economy Isn’t Easy

But the kinds of policies that encourage innovation can be complicated to formulate, cutting across many sectors of the innovation ecosystem such as education, research, science and technology, finance, and public procurement.

“In order to unleash the innovation potential that exists in Central Europe and the Middle East, innovation policies will have to be smarter,” said Gerardo Corrochano, the World Bank’s Director of Private and Financial Sector Development for Europe and Central Asia. “Public expenditures, in particular, will need to be more focused, better monitored, and systematically evaluated so that governments can continue to adjust their priorities according to evolving country needs.”

open-quotesThe Czech Republic considers support for the knowledge economy as having a key role in maintaining the country’s competitiveness in the future. Therefore, we are pleased that other countries are interested in our experience with supporting innovations and technological acquisitions.
close-quotesMartin Kuba, the Czech Republic’s Minister of Industry and Trade

The BANKO company in Split, Croatia, illustrates the workings and results of conducive innovation policies.  BANKO specializes in durable, high-quality, and low-energy consumption pneumatic grinders for the shipbuilding and steel industries. With $1.9 million in seed capital from Croatia’s Business Innovation Centre, the Boskovics developed their concept and the prototype jointly with the University of Zagreb. Rigorous testing proved the new grinder to be twice as efficient and durable as the standard product. In 2010, BANKO put its grinder on the market and now has hundreds of customers in Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, and the Ukraine.

Leveraging the Demographic Bulge in the Middle East

According to the World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index, the Middle East region has made progress over the last ten years in access to education and ICT.  The institutional environment for private sector-led growth has also improved. 

“One of the emerging issues is how to make innovation policy more inclusive – not only by extending the benefits of technological progress to poor people, but also by engaging untapped talent, including women, older people, and indigenous populations,” said World Bank Institute Director of Operations Akihiko Nishio. “This is particularly important if the government wants to create jobs for people of all social and educational backgrounds.”

The region as a whole will need to create an estimated 40 million private sector jobs over the next 20 years just to meet current unemployment challenges. And most MENA countries will have to shift from an over dependence on public sector employment to the creation of private sector jobs and skills. Right now MENA’s average number of registered businesses per 1,000 people is about a sixth of that in the OECD, and less than a third of that in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“In light of the Arab Spring, and the imperative to create jobs for young Arabs – as well as create more inclusive employment opportunities, particularly for women – enhanced innovation and competition is critical to meeting these key regional social and economic objectives,” says Loic Chiquier, the World Bank’s Sector Director for Finance and Private Sector Development in the Middle East.

How Did You Do That? – What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why

A number of Middle Eastern countries expressed interest in learning from Europe and Central Asia’s economic transformation over the past two decades, where several countries have adapted approaches from developed countries to build pockets of technological excellence, integrating with the EU and global markets. It turns out that the two regions have quite a lot in common. Both have struggled with the legacy of centrally planned economies. Several countries in both regions are now reevaluating their strategies for growth and competitiveness, favoring more active government support to higher value added industries and services. And while the Middle East must find jobs for its young people, Europe and Central Asia will need to do the same for its quickly maturing population.

“The Czech Republic considers support for the knowledge economy as having a key role in maintaining the country’s competitiveness in the future. Therefore, we are pleased that other countries are interested in our experience with supporting innovations and technological acquisitions,” says Martin Kuba, the Czech Republic’s Minister of Industry and Trade.

For example, in Morocco and Lebanon improving the business environment is essential:  opening competition, ensuring investor protection, and establishing sound insolvency systems are key to promoting innovation as are, strengthening telecommunications, infrastructure, and administrative capacity. Another key priority in both countries is to promote entrepreneurship through financing and support services to businesses.  Jordan’s Oasis500 business accelerator is a proven model in the region, where proper early stage financing combined with mentoring have shown impressive results in creating successful innovative businesses.

Going Forward

The World Bank had several takeaways for its program in the Middle East. These include the need for:

  • Funding innovation and entrepreneurship at the early stage,
  • Providing comprehensive technical assistance support to start-ups and “gazelles” that create private-sector jobs, and
  • Building closer university-industry linkages both in education to address the demand for skills, and in applied research to ensure that R&D carried out by universities is relevant to industry needs.

Financial resources are finite, but knowledge is cumulative and unlimited. When ideas are shared and connected, they grow – often in unexpected ways. The World Bank’s Knowledge Agenda seeks to connect data, information, and ideas with development practitioners at all levels and with communities of practice around the world. 

Related Links from the Prague Event  (Note: the final Agenda and Press Release will be posted soon)  
Read the conference Media Advisory

Related Links from the World Bank's MENA Region
For more information see: www.worldbank.org/tn
Read the blog post: http://menablog.worldbank.org/tunisia-one-year-after-revolution-which-priorities-should-world-bank-support
Visit us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WorldBankMiddleEastNorthAfrica

Related Links from the World Bank Institute
Learn more about WBI's Growth and Competitiveness practice
Learn more about WBI and Innovative Solutions 

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