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Innovation

What happens when the economics of everything meet the internet of things?

Miles McKenna's picture

What will digital innovation mean for trade and development? Source - RiderofthestormWhen we think of eradicating extreme poverty, most of us associate this idea with the provision of basic needs. Food. Water. Shelter. Some argue to include clean air, security, even access to basic healthcare and primary education. But what about access to the internet? Where does the internet fit into development?

This is one of the overarching questions put to the authors of the upcoming 2016 World Development Report: Internet for Development. It was also the topic of a recent roundtable discussion entitled Digital Trade: Benefits and Impediments here at the World Bank Group, where economists and development professionals, including representatives from the public and private sectors, sat down to discuss some of these issues in detail.

The conversation hinged on what the internet meant for trade, especially for online entrepreneurs in developing countries. The internet, in many ways, signifies innovation. How then can we ensure that individuals seeking to introduce their ideas to the world and tap into the global marketplace can best do so? Is this a question of infrastructure? Is it a question of regulation?

Here’s what the numbers tell us.

CEO: We are moving away from the fossil age

Feike Sijbesma's picture
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Feike Sijbesma is CEO of Royal DSM, a health, nutrition, and materials company that has evolved from its original purpose (it was established by the Dutch government in 1902 to mine coal) into a science-based company that develops sustainable materials. It takes its name from the original Nederlandse Staatsmijnen, or Dutch State Mines.


“I think, first of all, we need to agree that climate change is real. 

Brazil shows how far inclusive green growth has come in 20 years

Rachel Kyte's picture

Also available in: Português

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World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change Rachel Kyte talks about Brazil's shift toward green, inclusive growth and how innovative practices developed there have gone global. The next challenge: developing business models to invest in the restoration of degraded land.

'Mission-oriented' strategies to invest in innovation: Competitiveness via an enterprising public sector

Christopher Colford's picture
Mariana Mazzucato on "The Entrepreneurial State"


“This is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” That quip sprang readily to mind this week – it was coined in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, when he welcomed a group of Nobel laureates to the White House – at a paradigm-shifting, synapse-snapping seminar featuring Prof. Mariana Mazzucato and other leading economics scholars, who convened for a think-tank symposium on innovation policy and competitiveness strategy.

The ideal of innovative, inclusive, green and sustainable economic growth is achievable, Mazzucato explained to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation – if policymakers and private-sector firms recognize that a dynamic economy requires a “mission-oriented” approach to driving technological innovation. An acclaimed economist at the University of Sussex – and the author of, among other works,“The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths” – Mazzucato is inspiring an increasingly wide-ranging debate over how to create higher-quality jobs in higher-value industries by sharpening economies’ competitiveness.

An essential driver of creativity is “the innovative state,” as Mazzucato recently detailed in an essay in the journal Foreign Affairs – through disciplined, deliberate public-sector investment, not just in basic research, but in risk-taking ventures as a key stimulant to economy-wide growth. That requires a forthright embrace of the public sector’s ability – and responsibility – to “actively shape and create markets, not just fix market failures.”

With a frisson of what one panelist called “the goosebump factor” enlivening the ITIF seminar – which was moderated by another top scholar of innovation and competitiveness, ITIF’s Rob Atkinson – the think-tank crowd heard Mazzucato outline the need for public-sector agencies to be, not just an occasional partner of private-sector firms, but a persistent driver of investment in leading-edge industries.

Industrial policy is finally back on the agenda,” Mazzucato asserted at the start of her ITIF remarks. Yet her vision of a competitiveness-minded public sector promoting a modernized version of industrial policy goes far beyond the long-ago experiments in heavy-handed planning that many free-market fundamentalists – forever in thrall to Thatcherism – still enjoy deriding as doomed attempts to “pick winners and losers.” Political Washington’s stale bickering over such a frozen-in-time caricature of industrial policy has long since been eclipsed, among economics scholars and practitioners, by the imaginative approaches of Mazzucato and others to energizing “the entrepreneurial state.”

Focusing the debate on the many pro-active instruments that the public sector can assert to help channel investment into innovation, Mazzucato hurled the defeatist “picking winners and losers” accusation back at the laissez-faire fatalists: “The question is not whether we should ‘pick’ but how.”

“The ‘entrepreneurial’ state, to me, means the state being willing and able to take on risk, to take on real fundamental uncertainty,” Mazzucato recently told The Financial Times. An enterprising public sector has often proven far more venturesome than short-term-focused private-sector firms, which often shy away from higher-risk, higher-reward investments that might diminish their next quarter's profits.   

“Venture capitalists themselves often enter [the innovation process] late in the game. In biotechnology, they actually came in after the state had made some of the most radical, revolutionary investments – which, after all, will often fail,” said Mazzucato. “And this is a very important point. Innovation is uncertain. It will often fail. So you need to make sure that the government budget can also fund some of the failures, cover the losses, as well as reap the return from some of the successes to fund the next round” of investments in innovation.

In his enthusiastic review of Mazzucato’s book, economics sage Martin Wolf of the Financial Times noted that energetic public-sector investment in innovation – and the abdication by private-sector firms of their oft-bragged-about, seldom-fulfilled role as bold risk-takers – has led to a “free-rider” problem that distorts incentives.

“Government has increasingly accepted that it funds the risks, while the private sector reaps the rewards,” wrote Wolf. “What is emerging, then, is not a truly symbiotic ecosystem of innovation, but a parasitic one, in which the most loss-making elements are socialised, while the profitmaking ones are largely privatised.” Neoclassical purists' continued scorn for the positive role of innovation-minded public-sector investment, Wolf reasoned, may be “the greatest threat to rising prosperity” in austerity-pinched Western economies.

Mazzucato’s analysis at ITIF reminded economy-watchers of how far the innovation-policy discussion has advanced, even as laissez-faire dogmatists belabor their weary bromides about the supposed taboo against “picking winners and losers.” Propelling a more nuanced vision of competitiveness strategy, as an improvement on earlier approaches to industrial policy, this week’s ITIF seminar advanced an enterprising agenda that Washington should weigh more often – analyzing not whether, but how, the public sector and the private sector can share the responsibility of crafting pro-growth policies and pro-jobs initiatives sans frontières. Meeting that challenge will require a paradigm-changing determination to champion an entrepreneurial public sector as a positive catalyst for creativity.

Mazzucato: "Value Creation" -- Dynamic Role for Government


 

Prizes, literacy and innovations in education

Michael Trucano's picture
an innovation supporting a revolution?
an innovation supporting a revolution?

"Innovation!"

The buzz around this buzzword in education (the need for it, the celebrations of it, the challenges in catalyzing it) continues to get louder and louder, and the word itself seems to get invoked with increasing (almost de facto) frequency as part of discussions about the need for change.

Indeed:

How are we to meet and overcome many of the pressing, endemic, and sometimes seemingly intractable challenges facing learners, educators, education policymakers and education systems around the world if we aren't being innovative in how we define (and redefine) our problems -- and in how we propose to go about solving them?

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There are many groups, events and activities that seek to document, share knowledge about, analyze and assess various 'innovations in education' around the world. The annual World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Qatar, for example, focuses explicitly on this theme. R4D's Center for Education Innovations does as well, in partnership with many international groups, including UNICEF (which has a special initiative on 'innovations in education' and whose much-lauded Innovations unit is for many of us a model for excellence within the international donor and aid community). The OECD's widely-read report last year on Measuring Innovations in Education seeks to offer "new perspectives to address th[e] need for measurement in educational innovation through a comparison of innovation in education to innovation in other sectors, identification of specific innovations across educational systems, and construction of metrics to examine the relationship between educational innovation and changes in educational outcomes."

Some observers may feel that this explicit focus on 'innovation in education' is overblown. We don't fund a lot of things sufficiently that we already know work, why don't we first concentrate on that stuff? Others may note that some 'innovations' in education promoted today have actually been around for decades, and thus perhaps no longer really qualify as 'innovations'. Sometimes the only 'innovation' in a particular 'new' approach is to utilize some new technology to do pretty much exactly what was done before, but now 'digitally', and in a way requiring a power cable or batteries. (I am not too sure that much of these thigns are really all that 'innovative', but many people who keep sending me related proposals seem to be convinced that they are.) Still others detect in many discussions around the need for 'innovation in education' the guiding hand of 'corporate education reformers' and/or of technology vendors with products to sell, and, as a result of past experiences, ideological leanings, an inherent tendency towards skepticism or a satisfaction with the status quo, and/or political calculus, reflexively push back (if not indeed recoil).

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'Innovations in education' are about much more than just technology use, of course -- but there is also no denying that new information and communications technologies (ICTs) of various sorts continue to enable and catalyze many of the innovations that are being explored in the sector, whether they relate to e.g. teacher training; assessment; data collection and management; payment mechanisms; stakeholder engagement and transparency; or changes in the teaching and learning processes themselves; and whether they originate in the public, non-profit or corporate sectors (or even, as for example is the case of distributed communities of people working together to help build new software or educational content in ways that are 'free' or 'open', out of no traditional or easily definable 'sector' at all).

Sometimes the ICTs are hard to miss (as is the case with Uruguay’s pioneering Plan Ceibal), and sometimes they are behind the scenes (innovative low cost private schooling schemes like those pioneered by groups like Bridge Academies, for example, depend heavily on the use of ICTs to promote efficiency and cut costs), but increasingly they are there. Many traditional groups active in advocating for funding efforts to help end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity (the twin goals of the World Bank) are increasingly challenged to identify, make sense of and support the diffusion of 'innovations in education' in ways that are useful and efficient and cost-effective – and potentially, from time to time, even transformative.

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Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

 These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Dial ICT for conflict? Four lessons on conflict and contention in the info age
The Washington Post
The past decade has witnessed an explosion of interest among political scientists in the outbreak and dynamics of civil wars. Much of this research has been facilitated by the rise of electronic media, including newspapers but extending to social media (Twitter, Facebook) that permit the collection of fine-grained data on patterns of civil war violence. At the same time, a parallel research program has emerged that centers on the effects of new information and communication technologies (ICTs). Yet these two research efforts rarely intersect.
 
Improving Innovation in Africa
Harvard Business Review
Opportunity is on the rise in Africa. New research, funded by the Tony Elumelu Foundation and conducted by my team at the African Institution of Technology, shows that within Africa, innovation is accelerating and the continent is finding better ways of solving local problems, even as it attracts top technology global brands. Young Africans are unleashing entrepreneurial energies as governments continue to enact reforms that improve business environments. An increasing number of start-ups are providing solutions to different business problems in the region. These are deepening the continent’s competitive capabilities to diversify the economies beyond just minerals and hydrocarbon. Despite this progress, Africa is still deeply underperforming in core areas that will redesign its economy and make it more sustainable.
 

Innovation in procurement: why and how

Enzo de Laurentiis's picture
Photo: © Arne Hoel/The World Bank

For governments to carry out their day-to-day functions, procurement -- or their ability to purchase goods and services -- is critical. It is both a service function and a strategic policy tool which can help achieve a broad range of social and economic welfare objectives. It cuts across all areas of public administration and builds on cooperation among multiple public and private stakeholders.

For procurement to better contribute to institutional effectiveness, then, it needs to innovate. Promoting innovation in procurement means processes that are transparent and efficient, and that facilitate equal access and open competition. Innovative solutions to public service needs are instrumental to delivering better services with long-term value for money.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

#Davosproblems: The financial crisis isn‘t over, and the inequality crisis is just beginning
Quartz
The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting has kicked off in Davos, Switzerland under the banner of “The New Global Context.” Falling in the long shadow of the financial crisis, the WEF’s theme reflects as much hope as a creeping sense that economic turmoil is the new normal. Some seven years into the current crisis, the participants at Davos are acutely aware that the world economy still hasn’t recovered its past momentum.

The Power of Market Creation, How Innovation Can Spur Development
Foreign Affairs
Most explanations of economic growth focus on conditions or incentives at the global or national level. They correlate prosperity with factors such as geography, demography, natural resources, political development, national culture, or official policy choices. Other explanations operate at the industry level, trying to explain why some sectors prosper more than others. At the end of the day, however, it is not societies, governments, or industries that create jobs but companies and their leaders. It is entrepreneurs and businesses that choose to spend or not, invest or not, hire or not.

Campaign Art: Reimagining the Future for #EVERYchild

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Twenty-five years have passed since the General Assembly of the United Nations ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  To honor this anniversary, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) launched a campaign to highlight the creative work of innovators who have already begun shaping the future in support of children and to call for more fresh ideas to address ongoing problems affecting disadvantaged children. 
 
VIDEO: Reimagining the future for EVERY child | UNICEF

From Imitating to Innovating

Marcin Piatkowski's picture

Time to Change Gears for Poland’s Economy

Poland is Europe’s growth champion. It has more than doubled its GDP per capita since the beginning of post-socialist transition in 1989, consistently growing since 1992, and was the only EU economy to avoid a recession in 2009. Poland is a prime example of the success of the European “convergence machine”. In 2014, the level of income adjusted for purchasing parity exceeded $24,000 and reached almost 65% of the level of income in the euro zone, the highest absolute and relative level since 1500 A.D.
 
However, past successes do not guarantee a prosperous future and Poland cannot afford to grow complacent. Given the significant productivity gap—Poland’s productivity per hour amounts to less than half of that in Germany —technology absorption will continue to drive private sector productivity in the near term, but it is unlikely to help sustain—not to mention accelerate—economic growth in the long term as Poland moves closer to the technology frontier. Investment in private sector R&D and innovation will have to increase far more rapidly. Growth can stagnate if Poland doesn’t start shifting from imitating others to generating new ideas, from quantity to quality, and from potato chips to microchips.


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