Lag affect of innovationDespite results showing the region is improving in areas such as institution building, human capital, infrastructure and market and business sophistication, many innovative activities in the Middle East are failing to translate into the wider economy. There is no quick fix, said Karim Sabbagh, senior partner at Booz & Company, a knowledge partner for the G11 2012. “We’re probably half way through these generational investments. Hopefully in next few years the gap between the inputs and outputs will narrow.”
In the broader Middle East, countries like Jordan and Lebanon, which outranked the richer GCC economies in terms of innovation efficiency, have been more open to entrepreneurship from a social and economic standpoint.
“They have an entrepreneurship culture, they started the trajectory sooner so the outputs were already there. In the GCC, this way of thinking started maybe 10 years ago so there is still a lag. For me this is a temporary result," said Sabbagh. “But innovation is not the monopoly of any specific region, country, company or individual, it’s open to everyone.
"The top 10 countries in the GII 2012 – the majority of which have populations of between 4 million and 9 million - demonstrate that even small countries can be at the forefront of innovation.”
GCC countries rank well on input pillars - a result of improvements in institutional frameworks, its skilled labour force (with an expanded tertiary education), and deeper integration with local and global investment and trade markets - but come up short on knowledge, technology and creative outputs. Businesses are slowly adopting innovative practices and there has been limited export of creative goods and services.
Innovation plans need actionWhile many sectors within the region have innovation plans they are still at a nascent stage and yet to be put into actionable strategies. Funds are often limited, access to credit is difficult particularly for the private sector, and infrastructure levels are often not developed enough to support large-scale innovation acitivities. The region faces a limited supply of knowledge workers to support innovation plans.
IP is also a challenge with the current regulatory framework failing to adequately protect intellectual capital or innovation investments.
Networks between innovative businesses are limited due to insufficient operational support.
Holistic approach needed
GCC must develop an holistic and integrated approach to overcome common science, technology and innovation (STI) challenges. Activities in these areas should be “harmonised around common platforms” to maximise social and economic benefits, Sabbagh said.