Nurturing the spirit of innovation
The UAE is looking to adapt some of the best practices and strategies of the world’s leading innovators while chalking out its own roadmap
As we celebrate our 43rd anniversary, ‘innovation’ is being discussed across the UAE in classrooms and boardrooms, with curiosity and with pride, given impetus by the recent announcement by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan that 2015 will be the ‘Year of Innovation’. This announcement builds on the UAE National Innovation Strategy, to make the UAE one of the world’s most innovative countries in the next seven years.
This visionary commitment and strategy is the culmination of more than a decade of efforts by the UAE leadership to guide and nurture the UAE towards its next phase of prosperity. It is a continuation of the progressive initiatives kicked off by the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, which set a goal of transforming the capital into an innovative knowledge-economy with a number of high-tech sectors serving as economic engines.
But why is innovation so important?
Innovation has long been recognised as one of the most potent drivers of economic growth in the modern era. In the US — one of the world’s most innovative economies — it has been estimated that innovation drives up to 90 per cent of per-capita income growth. The UAE leadership has long known the value of innovation and with the new National Innovation Strategy, it is now taking the UAE’s pursuit of high-tech, competitive innovation to the next phase. This strategy provides the UAE with a comprehensive plan to develop the entire innovation ecosystem that is required to sustain, power and advance high-tech industries.
The strategy aligns key stakeholders and the relevant sectors including academia, business, industry and government. It recognises the importance of the innovation pipeline starting from high school, where the UAE’s boys and girls will explore science through new in-school labs, all the way through to motivating the private sector to adopt innovative technologies. The strategy also focuses on stimulating innovation in seven sectors, which are renewable energy, transport, education, health, technology, water and space.
Furthermore, the strategy addresses gaps that were identified by the leadership in earlier analyses, including funding for research and development and adoption of legislation that encourages entrepreneurship and protects intellectual property rights. For instance, the strategy requires all UAE government entities to reduce spending by 1 per cent and dedicate those savings to research and innovation projects. Most crucially, the strategy focuses on establishing innovation incubators in the UAE, which will serve to germinate, nurture and develop innovative business concepts. These incubators will help speed up the process of innovation in the UAE, helping take ‘big’ ideas to the market.
And while the UAE is inspired by the successes of innovation hubs like the US, Singapore and Japan, it recognises that it cannot simply replicate their methods to achieve the same results. The UAE is looking to adapt some of the best practices and strategies of the world’s leading innovators while chalking out its own roadmap that matches the needs of its people, resources and ambitions.
The Masdar initiative, for instance, is a prime example of how the UAE is diversifying and advancing its economy through innovation. By leveraging the UAE’s existing expertise and resources, Masdar is pushing the boundaries of the renewable energy sector to maintain its leadership position in the evolving energy market. To support it in its journey, Masdar has partnered with many of the best-in-class in industry and academia. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — one of the world’s most innovative technological universities — is the key collaborator of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. As a research university, the institute is central to the innovation, technology and development strategy of the Masdar initiative. Through its four research centres — iWater, iEnergy, iSmart and iMicro — Masdar Institute works to solve problems of direct relevance to the UAE and its industries, while its Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (iInnovation) identifies promising research projects and provides them funding and development towards commercialisation. Masdar Institute’s degree programmes have resulted in 307 MIT-calibre graduates and its research focus has resulted in three patents, 42 patent applications and 68 invention disclosures — all of which are important building blocks in support of the UAE’s innovation engine.
Going forward, for the National Innovation Strategy to have the dynamic impact, the country requires that all of us must play our part in supporting the UAE’s innovation ecosystem. Our young boys and girls need to be inspired and motivated to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Our universities need to keep pushing the boundaries of science to bring patents, inventions and breakthroughs to the UAE and world at large. And our industries need to look within to see how they can use and support the country’s research and development infrastructure to improve their competitive edge. After all, investing in innovation and our people is investing in our future.
Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is UAE Minister of State and Chairman of Masdar.