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The panel started with a presentation by Mr Mohamed Ba (Head of Innovation Division, BDT, ITU) on innovation and its implementation in various countries and regions where Ba stressed that ICTs made an open economy and a borderless market possible. He explained that infrastructural investments were essential to innovation but not enough if communities and governments did not use these resources efficiently. Ba cited surveys where, in developing countries, the output of innovation was around 50% but 100% for developed countries. He further explained this phenomenon with an example: if citizens use broadband and the infrastructure provided solely to access social media platforms, this can never lead to economic robustness.
Another view Ba provided regarding the innovation issue was the missing link between the analogue and the digital economies. If local regulations do not provide a certain balance between local-global players and analogue-digital businesses, this leads to the disappearance of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and the middle class of communities. In order to prevent this, business models need sophisticated updates with value not for just businesses but for citizens as well. Continuing the presentation, Ba stressed that technology was not the root cause of change but rather demand was. In order to change dormant ecosystems, governments need policies that support start-ups, academia needs to provide communities with the desired skills and qualifications, and so on. One of the final points he made was that all stakeholders and individuals had to take part in using technology for change.
Session moderator, Mr Anir Chowdhury (Policy Advisor to Prime Minister’s Office, Bangladesh) pointed out many innovations labs in different countries including Kosovo, Bangladesh, and Denmark that are focusing on various sectors and issues such as financial, social, and grassroots inclusion. These could be used as examples of innovation. Citing global research, Chowdhury mentioned that 90% of start-ups disappear in their first three years. A major reason for this is not fully understanding the market and its needs. Moving on to policy experimentation in the context of entrepreneurship, Chowdhury turned to panellists for regional examples.
Ms Zsuzsanna Makara (Ministry of National Development, Hungary) introduced Hungary’s government-facilitated programme, which focuses on fostering innovation and start-up ecosystems in rural areas of the country. Makara mentioned that the missing link for a vital ecosystem was networking. The programme, which works via state and EU funds, aims to sustain itself in three years. The goal is to have 1000 young entrepreneurs build their own companies and help introduce them to foreign markets with the aim of 10% of them contributing to Hungary’s export market.
Ms Marta Pérez Cusó (UNCTAD) stated that one of UNCTAD’s main targets is developing countries through reviewing national policies from the systemic perspective of innovation. She offered significant questions to be answered during this processes: What are the capacities and what are the linkages between the actors? How can we connect to private sector players as collaborators? Is institutional research relevant to industries? Underlining the importance of a holistic view of different actors, she stated that the key was the communication and collaboration abilities of these actors.
In regards to helping solve economic and social problems through ICT, Mr Dritan Mezini (AITA, Albania), said there was a need for a definition of innovation in developing countries. A development old to one country may be new to another and it would still qualify as an innovation in the second country. Mezini mentioned that as a business stakeholder, AITA contributes to school curricula, sponsors various events such as Start-Up Weekends, and seeks champions to contribute further to their communities. Travelling to many cities provided a new perspective on how start-up culture is viewed differently in smaller cities compared to capitals.
Ms Julia Jasinska (Nokia) distinguished basic themes needed to allow innovation: access, basic connectivity, open markets, connecting local actors, creating new innovative hubs, competition, support of standardisation, enabling of entrepreneurial thinking early in education, innovation advisers, along with new systems and policies which are innovation friendly. Once there is a good framework in place, failing should not be such a disaster and start-ups can try again learning from their previous mistakes. The lack of market understanding and research by young entrepreneurs before launching a new idea was pointed out. Mezini said governments, think-tanks, and local and global actors needed to take action to educate citizens on entrepreneurship. Taking the floor once more Ba underlined the importance of creating a vision, giving concrete answers to what one aspires to achieve, and developing the right capacity to exhibit that vision.
One major point which was agreed on during discussions was the importance of policy experimentation from governments and the private sector through incentives and implementation of new programmes. Various examples were given from Hungary, Albania, Bangladesh, and others which emphasised how most programmes and incentives aimed to create collaborations, networks, and dialogue between local SMEs and global companies, local and regional stakeholders, private and government actors, as well as civil society and academia’s contribution with guidance from innovation advisers, innovation ministries, and best practice examples from around the globe.
by Su Sonia Herring