Innovation imperative for small states | So Good News


Small states take the road less traveled. They face challenges unfamiliar to many: resource scarcity, small economies, and the very real effects of climate change. However, small states can also use assets in ways that large states often cannot. As an example, Singapore has learned how to accelerate innovation and digital development.

Small states are not passive actors in traditional development or innovation trajectories. They have an exciting power and agency that drives innovation in new directions. This includes the creation of a new era of global innovation leadership – defining and setting global standards and innovation priorities, and creating the comparative advantage of small states in the context of innovation.

Technological innovation is based on political innovation

Innovation does not work in a vacuum, and governance is a key catalyst. This includes examining how governance structures and processes identify, implement and scale innovation. There is a growing need to create systems, cultures and infrastructure that not only embrace innovation, but also innovate. part of his. Governments can ensure that new technologies match local priorities and shape global solutions that fill these gaps. It’s a journey, not a destination; it’s about creating an environment for continuous innovation.

Management must respond to the constant evolution of technologies. Some examples of such flexible governance include regulatory sandboxes, performance-based regulations, and testing grounds for global innovators (although small states must not only “test” innovations, but also co-design them). Agility also comes from data-driven innovation and data innovation. Here, governments can build basic data infrastructure and use data to accelerate innovation through initiatives such as the UNDP SIDS Data Platform. Such insights can become part of “feedback loops” to inform policy and service design.

We need to focus on results, not solutions

Whether driven by frontier technologies or cost-effective innovations, communities and entrepreneurs or corporations and governments, priorities need to be shifted to the positive outcomes of innovation. Each configuration leads to greater success in different contexts and reinforces why we should be problem-driven, not solution-driven. Small states share unique challenges that do not necessarily respond to established technological “answers,” and there are broader positive multipliers that emerge when innovating to these challenges. Small states again have the advantage of size; coordination can be faster and businesses can more easily work with governments to coordinate innovation priorities.

It is especially important to recognize that innovation cannot be provided by government alone. The private sector plays a particularly important role, including small businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic has turbocharged digitization and many businesses have recognized that they can no longer do business in the traditional way. In Singapore, this shift has been accompanied by a focus on building grassroots adoption of digital tools through a CTO-as-a-service platform under the SMEs Go Digital Programme. Since 2017, more than 80,000 small and medium-sized enterprises have adopted digital solutions within the program.

Recognizing that government alone cannot deliver innovation, Singapore is focusing on building grassroots adoption of digital tools in the private sector.

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We need to build and strengthen local efforts and small state capacity

Innovation must be driven and owned by local people—and that starts with developing human capital. Brain drain is a huge struggle for small states, and it’s critical for governments to tackle it. Small states should strive to build robust youth curricula in local schools, as well as develop advanced STEM offerings to encourage innovators to contribute to their countries. For example, Singapore’s TechSkills Accelerator Initiative has supported more than 7,000 companies to recruit, train and retain tech talent. It has placed more than 12,000 Singaporeans in technology roles, and the accompanying framework supports businesses in recruiting global talent with in-demand skills.

Moreover, innovation is not just a product of financial investment or discrete initiatives; it arises from the complex interactions between the public and private sectors, shaped by the aforementioned human capacity development, research and development, and institutional frameworks for business support. Singapore’s National Platform for Digital Innovation The Open Innovation Platform provides professional consulting support to help companies diagnose business challenges, define problem statements and crowdsource solutions from 12,000 private sector solution providers. The government also plays an active role in supporting startups in their growth stages. Through the [email protected] and SGD Spark programs, organizations are given third-party assurance of a startup’s ability to deliver its products and results, as well as link them to government and business demand.

Innovation is not mandatory for small states

The challenges facing small states are matched by the potential that innovation and digital technologies can offer. Part of this is the role and importance of learning from each other. The Singapore Cooperation Program (SCP) extends technical assistance and shares Singapore’s development experience with other developing countries. on the 30thth In 2022, the SCP welcomed nearly 150,000 foreign government officials into its programs.

In 2021, Singapore launched the FOSS for Good technical assistance package to address the unique development priorities of small states, including digital transformation in health, education and public administration. UNDP was an important partner in this program. Such shared learning and collaboration opportunities, combined with broad-based support from initiatives such as the UNDP Global SIDS Proposal, will be critical to ensuring that small states build and sustain global innovation leadership. Even in the face of constant stress and crisis, but also to take advantage of the opportunities that innovation can positively transform lives and livelihoods.


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