Innovation-led growth: what are we lacking?

By Inbisat Zaidi

Throughout history, prominent social to scientific revolutions stemmed from the knowledge circulation among intellectual elites. The enlightenment era saw salons and coffee houses of Europe, the intellectual center of Baghdad, Aristotle’s lyceum, and Greek agora — the communities that boasted the cream of intellectuals, who co-learned through the dispersion of ideas and mutual contemplation.

Today, we have finally agreed upon the interdisciplinary approach towards devising solutions to contemporary challenges. Try imagining any of the latest breakthroughs that do not involve an intellectual community. Do you think the world could have found cancer treatment without the diverse expertise of a community, a community of researchers, doctors, nanotechnologists, and computer scientists? Accordingly, the concept of “innovation ecosystems” emerged, given the high uncertainty and complex growth circumstances, to support co-learning, co-innovation, and co-creation. Innovation ecosystem involves the collaboration of all the stakeholders and actors: academia, government, corporations, private investors, firms, media, mentors, and entrepreneurs who come together for a mutually compatible goal.

Like the organisms which support each other for collective survival, actors in the innovation ecosystem collaborate through shared knowledge and resources to transform the ideas into reality. Thus, one might find a reasonable investment opportunity, whereas the other would obtain the required investment at the right time for the right reasons. The realization of ideas and production of development outcomes involve the interlinked actors, who do not restrain each other’s creativity and fully harness the diversity of expertise and resources. Therefore, academia-industry, firm-firm, public-private linkages are the driving factors for innovation within the innovation ecosystem.

According to the 80 broad indicators of the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020, Switzerland is the world’s most innovative economy, followed by Sweden and the United States of America. In Switzerland, the government’s funding is oriented towards fostering the academia-industry linkages. The Swiss innovation agency, Innosuisse, has a policy of providing the funds directly to universities, driving the companies to look for university partners in the pursuit of innovation. The US follows the “triple helix model” to promote the linkages between academia, government, and industry. Interestingly, the US witnessed an upsurge in innovation post the 1980’s Bayh-Dole act that supported the incentivizing, patenting, and technology transfer of University research. So, the formalized and institutionalized collaborations could iron out the discrepancies within the innovation ecosystem.

Germany, ranking 8th for University-Industry cooperation on GII, is another example of an innovation ecosystem supported by legislation, Germany’s Investor’s law of 2002. Our rising neighbours, India and Iran, have definitely left us in either awe or a bind, climbing up to the rank of 48 and 67, respectively.

Pakistan’s economy has plummeted to 107 positions on GII, whereas the other developing economies have demonstrated stellar innovation performance. In Pakistan, there is a lack of cross-sector communication and collaboration. In a recent study on innovation in Pakistan, it was found that out of 696 firms, only 0 – 0.6% of firms coordinate with domestic research institutes/universities and government. Such statistics are quite alarming in the context of innovation. We need to closely analyze and learn from the developing economies that are progressing in the innovation landscape. It is high time for industries to come up as the trendsetter, not the trend follower. The research institutes and their research is of no use if it has no practical existence for practitioners. So, we need to understand the potential of research and its impacts on the innovation trajectory. Universities and Industries should strengthen each other through study and financial support, respectively.

Moreover, supportive policies should be formulated at universities and industries to offer patronage for academia-industry linkages. Also, legislative support for subtle collaborations and the protection of intellectual property rights can smoothen up the process significantly. The innovation ecosystem is the way forward; hence flexible alliances, creative collaborations, and knowledge diffusion are the cornerstones for innovation-led growth in Pakistan.

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