Archive for March 5th, 2015

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Inclusive or exclusive innovation (or is it invigoration) – Odessa/Ukraine

March 5, 2015

Now and again, this blog is asked to contribute to discussions, either directly or indirectly (arming others that are going into a debate/conference) with a thought or two.  Such requests occur far more regularly at a local level, but occasionally at a national level too.  After all, nobody has the monopoly on good ideas, and some Ukrainians still value some input from its western immigrant community.

Ergo, even the often foolish – such as this blog – occasionally get to (hopefully) point toward the highway of progress.  Or at make the suggestion that looking at the map and the various routes possible may not be a bad idea.

Recently a small, educated gathering of the dynamic 30-somethings, including a few regional politicos, engaged in a conversation regarding innovation – and specifically “innovating Odessa” became the unofficial theme, naturally enough.

It became fairly clear, fairly early on, that “business incubators”, “angel investors”, “government and external subsidies/grants” together with “Science parks” were deemed highly attractive – the thinking being that creation of such innovative centers in and around Odessa would lead to a natural expansion of these sectors and ultimately a “trickle down” positive effect on the local economy.

But are those ideas innovative, or invigorating?  Or both?  Does one necessarily lead to another?

Perhaps the “trickle down” will occur, yet that depends very much upon whether the Odessite version of Bill Gates or Richard Branson that may emerge from any such innovation centre, is of a mind to horde personal wealth, or expand, reinvest, diversify, fund further R&D, and in doing so spend that wealth locally.

There’s not a lot of “trickle down” to be had when large sums are taken out of an economy.  Indeed there isn’t much of a seepage, let alone a flood, into other business sectors in many cases either.

To genuinely innovate the Odessa economy, any innovation would have to increase the chances of employment for a great many more people outside the traditional maritime/port, or tourism industries do – or the emerging IT sector.

“Private cash” tends to invest in where the ROCE is expected to be highest – and rightly so from an investors point of view perhaps.  It concentrates a little more heavily on the development and delivery rather than innovative research.  Indeed whilst invigoration of a particular market sector may take place, neither the invigoration nor any (possible) subsequent innovation may trickle down locally.

As Utopian as it would be, there will be no equivalent of the German Fraunhofer Not For Profit innovation research centers across Ukraine.  The reason being there is no coherent “innovation policy” in Ukraine, neither nationally or locally, even if there was the money and political will to create such an entity.

Therein, this blog pointed out, was a significant problem – both locally and nationally, when government funds in Ukraine (central or local) concentrate on neither R or D in R&D in any meaningful policy orientated way.

Thus rather than anybody concentrating upon where society would like to see innovative solutions sought, there is little interest.  Headline grabbing E-gov and e-democracy, even e-cities as a local government projects are all well and good – unless society would prefer to see money spent on  innovation in health.  Or quality of life.  Or Education.  Or transport.

There is and always will be – regardless of economic climate in Ukraine – limited national or local government cash for innovation.  With budgetary decentralisation to local government, it follows that local government has a major role to play in local innovation – quite rightly too.

However when attempting to deal with local innovative solutions via local government money, it would seem wise to have a conversation with the locals.  When spending limited funds, the local community is likely to want to know what innovation is for, who benefits, how they benefit, whether it is justifiable/ethical, and have a say in innovative priorities.  Any local innovative spending would be far better understood and received following an inclusive local conversation.

That would lend itself towards research prior to making investment into what may be nothing more than temporary business sector invigoration, rather than what may turn out to be a much desired local innovative solution.  Research would also help identify any cross cutting cleavages where they exist.

The innovation question from this blog for the dynamic 30-somethings, was whom is innovation, and specifically any publicly funded innovation investment to serve?  An inclusive broad base of society, or a small exclusive elite, or the innovator?  Should the source of financing weigh more heavily toward one or another answer to that question – or be specifically designed to off-set any private/public funding biases?  Should it metaphorically deliver a bus service for the masses, or a stretch limo for the few, or a chauffeur for the elite?

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