Date: Aug 8, 2017
Source: The Daily Star
The eternal quest for innovation and development
Nahla El-Zibawi

What is innovation? Can it be measured? Can a country be identified by its innovation level? How can we increase a nation’s innovation level?The definition of innovation has long been part of the human quest. Some studies tried to define innovation by showing how it’s different from invention, creativity and design. However, in the publication “The Measurement of Scientific and Technological Activities: Guidelines for Collecting and Interpreting Innovation Data” for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, innovation was defined as “the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organizational method in business practices, workplace organization or external relations.”

For the past 10 years, the Global Innovation Index acted as a tool for defining the innovation level in 128 countries by using 81 indicators. The index, which is published yearly by the United Nations’ specialized agency World Intellectual Property Organization, INSEAD business school and Cornell University, divided the indicators into two categories: the innovation inputs and innovation outputs factors. Innovation inputs are factors such as the regulatory environment, education, infrastructure and research and development, while innovation outputs are from such factors as patents filled and knowledge diffusion.

According to these indicators, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands were ranked the highest three countries in innovation level in this year’s 10th edition of the GII.

Since the beginning of the GII, it marked itself as a leading tool for measuring innovation across countries. Hence, it didn’t only create a competition between nations to reach the top of the list but it also urged them to use it as a reason to create policies that help in the nation’s growth.

Accordingly, in 2013 and during the U.N. Economic and Social Council, then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that the GII is “a unique tool for refining innovation policies ... for providing an accurate picture on the role of science, technology and innovation in sustainable development.”

Consequently, some countries are starting to look at the innovation index from a different perspective. They are using it to build policies that help them in their nation’s development and thus reach a better ranking.

This year, the 10th version of the GII showed some outstanding performers from different sides of the world. For instance, India jumped six places, reaching 60th. Though it didn’t reach the top of the list, the country showed it has been working hard in grasping opportunities for innovation.

The United Arab Emirates has also jumped six places, reaching 35th and showing the impact of the wise holistic approach the UAE has been following for the past few years in order to position itself regionally and internationally.

This increasingly widespread interest in linking innovation to development and the success it is showing puts each country in a position to develop a national agenda for innovation covering different developmental sectors. This will help in strengthening the importance of innovation for the world’s development.

Nahla El-Zibawi is project coordinator of the Outreach and Leadership Academy at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at [email protected]

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 05, 2017, on page 2.