I am very pleased to share with you that the infoDev Global Forum on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Brazil last week was a great success. There was over 1,000 participants from around the world with strong commitment of Brazilian officials. The Governor of Santa Catarina was present throughout, during the press conference, the plenary sessions, the opening ceremony in addition to hosting a special dinner at his house for visiting delegations. Several high level Brazilian officials, particularly from the Ministry of Science and Technology and related institutions, also participated in various parts of the Forum. Makhtar Diop, the Bank Director for Brazil, was also kind to chair one of the plenary sessions.
I left the Forum with stronger belief and passion for the "grass-root" innovation agenda. Just looking around and seeing the high percentage of women and youth among the audience was the best illustration that innovation and entrepreneurship is at the heart of "inclusive" development and the way to address the major challenges facing developing countries, most important among which are opportunity creation, inclusion and empowerment of the disfranchised segments of the society. While this has always been the challenge, addressing it today is more feasible with the use of information technologies which can enable any member of the society to access global knowledge (that used to be a privilege) and become a player in local and global markets.
It was clear in the conference that innovation cannot materialize without government support, private capital and know-how. Brazil has an annual budget of US$20 billion to support innovation through various instruments and institutions. Risk capital and management know-how have also been identified as a pre-requisite for commercialization and scaling successful ventures. However, a serious gap exists in most markets for funding very early stage companies in the range of $50,000 to a million dollar range. This is about very small enterprises rather than SMEs, in the way we define them. If we could create such risk capital instruments and combine with our advisory services and network, supported by policy work to help create the enabling environment and incentives, we could truly make a difference.
Delivering on this innovation agenda may not be straight forward, and will require pro-active engagements at the policy and investment levels, as well as partnerships among governments, the private sector, universities and civil society at large. We are uniquely positioned as a development institution to take the lead on this issue by combining the various instruments of the World Bank Group, provided we are also prepared to be innovative ourselves in developing new business models to foster innovation and entrepreneurship as a means for addressing the needs of the "bottom of the pyramid" and creating opportunities for various segments of the society. Combining policy, advisory services and investments is one evident advantage that we have, together with World Bank Group global reach and network. CIT, being a joint GPG department and in charge of ICTs, the "emerging" enabling platform, has also the opportunity to act as a catalyst for developing some of these models and creating networks that would facilitate knowledge sharing among member developing countries. I would like to invite you all to brainstorm about how we can engage in a more serious way in this area by combining our expertise and tools, in addition to leveraging infoDev's large incubators' network and experience that now includes about 270 incubators in 80 countries, which in turn have resulted in over 2,200 small companies and 20,000 jobs.