Soumitra Dutta is a professor of business and technology at Insead. He speaks about where the UAE sits on a list of the world's most innovative countries and what it needs to do to improve.
What is the Global Innovation Index?
About five or six years ago … I started looking at technology and innovation and I saw it was being defined in a very narrow way - research findings and that kind of stuff. Many emerging markets were being defined by traditional measures and appeared low down, but I realised that a lot of innovation was happening in those markets. The Global Innovation Index is an attempt to capture the innovation capacity in countries around the world.
How does the Middle East fare in the 2011 report?
If you look at the top 20, the Arab Middle East doesn't fare in the top 20, which consists of many European, Asian and American countries. We see that the Middle East has some room to progress to come into the top 20. But two countries stand out - Qatar, which is at 26, and the UAE, which is positioned number 34. They are close to being among the elite.
What are the UAE's strengths?
What is interesting is that in (almost) all input conditions, the UAE's rank is higher than its global rank. Where the UAE gets hit is the scientific outputs, where it ranks 119. The biggest area for position improvement is in trying to see how the UAE can encourage further knowledge creation. Creation of scientific knowledge and diffusion of scientific knowledge is where the UAE can certainly benefit further.
But the UAE is home to Masdar. Does that not count?
Masdar is one example of creating some kind of a focused excellence in this area. But Masdar is in its initial years. The idea is very good but it has to create outputs. If Masdar succeeds, and I hope it will, we will see the UAE improve in the ranking.
What does it need to do to improve?
The UAE (needs to) invest in a few strategic areas in the future. But it has to be able to get the best quality human talent it can from inside the UAE or outside. It should leverage its strength as an attractive place for expats to attract scientists from around the world. It will take a few years, if not a decade or more for Masdar to become the powerhouse that everyone expects that it will become.
Is the answer another big idea like Masdar?
I think it needs to invest in general science. It's got to create these kind of things in parallel. For quick results, you have to have focused efforts like Masdar, but you also need to build the scientific foundation. You need both; it's not a question of either or. The competition for good scientists is extremely tough, so the UAE needs to make a dedicated focus to market itself for scientists.