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Thursday, July 20, 2017
We need to place a different fuel to drive the economic engine. The fuel that is on everyone’s lips – except ours of course – is innovation and there is hardly any disagreement outside Sri Lanka, that innovation is being recognised as the central driver of economic growth and development. Here, a young man works on a laptop while waiting at a bus stand in Colombo during a private bus strike day – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
Thursday, 20 July 2017
With sincere apologies to Virgil who stated quite simply and yet with much depth that ‘they can because they think they can,’ I really must present the quote quoted differently! The title is also meant to reflect the frustration that one gets when trying to realise some meaningful progress perhaps in an unorthodox manner. We are quite ready to fail by sticking to same old routines when common sense may indicate that there is no hope at all in going down such routes.
I did paraphrase Virgil’s line in this manner because this is the way we think and act and the basis for most of our decisions too. We are ever ready to justify why something cannot be done. We are in quite muddied waters and there is the dire need for some creative decision-making. The surfeit of problems that are facing us which need tackling with some alacrity are, to be quite blunt, quite alarming.
Consider what I have included in the inserted figure. This list is really is a random collection with the express intention of creating an impact on the reader’s mind. Continuing to trundle along with ensuring simple solutions to go by the day is not going to serve us well and most of the time that is what we are doing and achieving. Hanging on with dear life to procedures that have not served us at all – but many simply do not see these in this light – is a hallmark of subservient behaviour and simply a mindless activity.
Fuel of innovation
We need to place a different fuel to drive the economic engine. The fuel that is on everyone’s lips – except ours of course – is innovation and there is hardly any disagreement outside Sri Lanka, that innovation is being recognised as the central driver of economic growth and development.
Innovation may mean in many ways to many people but essentially it is all about doing new things or doing old things differently and better. The widely-accepted manual in Europe for assessment purposes is the Oslo Manuel and this has quite a broad definition for innovation – An innovation is the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations. So much is defined under innovation and so little of such thinking is taking place and the net result in this vacuum are all these burning issues.
The recently-released Global Innovation Index report has further pushed Sri Lanka back. In its 10th edition GII places Sri Lanka in the 90th position from 127 economies. If it is any consolation we have moved up one position from the analysis last year but the general trend had been going down the slippery slope. However we have been languishing in this 90-105th sector for most of the time though the oft-stated mantra had been consistent on knowledge based economy. Again Sri Lanka considers seriously the middle-income trap that we are in and have had many a conference workshop on identifying ways and means of getting out of it.
Strong decisions needed
The 2016 Central Bank report is quite revealing that it attributes and acknowledges the yeoman service rendered to the present economic position by the remittances from Middle East and this is not earnings generated from knowledge-based endeavour. Hence there is a lot of recalibration that needs to be carried in our assessments and some strong decisions need to be taken to put the ship on right path.
GII indicates a position for the country in relation to others. However what it contains and reveals is also specific pointers for action if we consider it that way. The former Secretary General of UN mentioned that the GII is a unique tool for refining innovation policies and for providing an accurate picture on the role of science, technology and innovation in Sustainable Development. Sri Lanka is yet to have an innovation policy. However there is an ongoing process in this regard with the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade with the support of World Bank. There is a clear need for decision makers co-opting the GII framework for decision-making with the proviso that they really understand its usefulness.
Have some confidence!
Having some confidence when trying to achieve something is quite important and we just appear to fail there. Wanting to succeed coupled with the determination to follow through is simply missing with most people. We just do not believe we by ourselves can get something done. Always reaching out without an iota of self-belief is something we see and hear always. In any situation we appear to seek outside help and we appear to be ever willing to be perfect hosts in this help importation exercise.
We appear to accept certain ways of doing things as sacred and any deviation from an accepted way of work is really frowned upon. This behaviour as per set operating guidelines cannot take you far especially when we know that one of the biggest complaints for lack of progress in FDI and in business confidence is the way we do things.
Now this is not recommending that all safeguards and due diligence be waived for the sake of getting a business going – may even remember the concept of opening up and saying may the robber barons come in. No, we need decent FDIs that have the potential of transformation as well. However, ensuring speed and efficiency is vital in developing confidence. We do meet on improving the Doing Business Index but may be it is much more important to meet over the Global Innovation Index – then you are covering much more and considering much more vital matters across many more parameters.
We need positive reinforcement to our mind over the ability to create new things. Ask the ordinary citizen what the country is offering them, the answer may be that there is nothing new except perhaps the aggravation of the age-old problems. We have the Government hotline for information and the most frequent query from that is how to obtain the passport as per an analysis and that question speaks volumes.
A lot of effort has gone into teaching English and we spend many a year in school trying to conquer this language. Yet the progress overall is not exactly satisfactory. However, interestingly we appear to learn Korean in quite a short time to a level that is considered eminently satisfactory to live and work in Korea – of course the work available is not for the knowledge worker kind. Is there an attitudinal issue here or a sign of desperation?
Sometimes we may be considering that if we can get an additional five billion dollars the economy can weather all the immediate storms! Then we seek the quickest and the fastest way to ensure that the money is available. Yes there is very little chance to generate billions quite quickly through immediate high technology innovation but we have to understand that the efficiency improvements in our economy actually can deliver billions via changing the way we do things.
I will elucidate on this point later but will stop with the statement for the moment allowing you to agree or disagree but I urge you think how efficiency can prop up our economy immediately.
We also do have the issue of meek acquiescent in challenging authority and usually follow the requirements – doing everything that is told again is an issue and many a senseless move can happen as we allow our conscious to be frozen. Must admit that overcoming this in most instances can be a quite a challenge but if proper people with right qualifications at least start occupying places the task obviously will be made easier. That is a quantum jump we must make too, as no ship can sail properly with the wrong skipper on deck!