x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Unrest to spark innovation in region

The Arab Spring will lead to a higher level of innovation in the Middle East, predicts the author of a new global report on innovation.

The so-called Arab Spring will lead to greater innovation in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region as companies and governments look to build their economies and create wealth.

That is the belief of Professor Soumitra Dutta, the editor of the Insead business school's Global Innovation Index (GII), an annual report that ranks countries based on innovation.

He predicts that once stability returns to the Mena region, innovation will be given the optimum environment to flourish.

His comments follow the publication of this year's ranking, which places Qatar and the UAE in the top 40 innovators globally.

"I don't think the Arab Spring results are evident in this year's report, it will take some time before institutions and companies begin to invest," Prof Dutta said. "But if you have the right governments and directional moves, then these countries will become encouraging [places] for innovation."

The GII, produced in partnership with Alcatel-Lucent, Booz & Company, the Confederation of Indian Industry, and the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation, measures the innovation levels of 125 countries. Prof Dutta said the Mena region had great potential as a hub for innovation, but that more needed to be done to push countries higher up the rankings.

"Human potential and capital is where the biggest gap arises," he said. "Every Middle Eastern country should have a strategy for identifying what skills are needed and make sure they exist inside the country."

It is likely to be some time before countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, which are still in the early stages of developing new political and economic foundations, are ready to invest heavily in innovation.

Karim Sabbagh, a senior partner at Booz & Company, said facilitating infrastructure, technology and institutions in those countries affected by unrest would be crucial to developing innovation. "Innovation is not going to come out of a vacuum," he said. "But if you are deprived of basic infrastructure, then information and people will not flourish to their full potential."

The top three innovating countries are Switzerland, Sweden and Singapore this year, according to the GII report.

Prof Dutta said government support was crucial. "The role of the government is important everywhere in innovation; it should facilitate the business and economic environment."

The GII report considers the elements that fuel innovation, such as human capital, and market and business sophistication.

rjones@thenational.ae