TIME RIPE TO MOVE FOR INNOVATION

Innovation will define Pakistan's competitiveness as it does in other countries.

By Dr. AMAN ULLAH CHAUDHRY
Mar 06 - 12, 2006

The present regime has successfully re-focused the nation on economic development, ushering in robust economic growth. Now the country should chart an innovation-powered course based on home grown nuclear research and development model for sustainable growth.

Pakistan has abundant natural resources and skilled cheap manpower, but lacks technology. Pakistan should start a new march towards transforming itself into a nation of innovation. There is a need not only for achieving key technological breakthroughs to facilitate sustained and coordinated economic and social progress, but also to develop frontier technologies and basic research with a long-term perspective.

There is a need to be attracted to innovation along with policies focusing on fast economic growth.

Clearly, this strategic shift will ease the mounting difficulties the country has come across in the global market.

Since its entry to World Trade Organization, Pakistan has steadily risen as a manufacturing base by tapping into cheap and relatively skilled labor force.

However, deteriorating trade conditions, such as costly oil imports and cheaper textile exports have caused a lot of pain for the Pakistani economy. The re-erection of trade barriers in recent years, no matter how unfair, should alert the Pakistani exporters and policy makers to the danger of relying excessively on low labor costs. The effort to encourage innovation will sharpen the country's technological competitive edge of its exports.

Going high-tech is a way to circumvent protectionism against Pakistani goods. But for Pakistan, the more underlying significance of boosting innovation lies in its effectual contribution to the change of its economic growth model.

To continue long-term growth that leads to improved welfare for public, there is a consensus that extensive growth is no longer an option economically, environmentally and socially. Emerging restraints in supply of energy, raw materials and even clean water have galvanized the nation into massive energy saving campaign. But that is only half of the story from the consumer side. Energy efficient and resource saving production should factor equally in helping the country overcome growth bottlenecks. Innovation in the form of both technological breakthroughs and management improvement is definitely the best way to make maximum use of the input and raise the overall efficiency of the national economy.

Numerous examples at home and abroad have proved the necessity of innovation in withstanding increasing fierce competition in the era of economic globalization.

Innovation will define Pakistan's competitiveness as it does in other countries.

Asian Development Bank will develop knowledge hubs in selected developing countries throughout the Asia and Pacific region to support and strengthen research and disseminate new development concepts and technologies. There will be four to six knowledge hubs set up over a two-year period, the first two of three by the end of this year. The people's Republic of China, India and Thailand have expressed interest in being among the first to host such knowledge hubs. There is wide understanding that the Asia and Pacific region needs to become innovative and technologically more advanced if it is to continue the high growth rates seen over the last few decades. Knowledge is the most important resource in maintaining the region's competitiveness, given the rapid rate of change created by globalization and technological innovation.

About four to six organizations and institutions will be tapped to serve as knowledge hubs or centers of excellence on emerging development topics such as clean development mechanism use of compressed natural gas and hybrid technologies in transport sector, renewable energy, environmental technology, information and communication technology as well as management techniques. ADB will provide the technical and training support needed to build the capacity of the selected organizations to capture, generate and disseminate knowledge, as well as to translate national and international knowledge for local or regional use.

To ensure high synergy and knowledge sharing these knowledge hubs will be linked with each other, as well as with relevant national organizations. To promote regional cooperation and integration, they will collaborate with existing knowledge networks in the region. Further they will be linked to international academic and research organizations to their access and capacity to learn and adopt the latest international development concepts to regional or local needs and demands.

It is envisioned that these knowledge hubs will become reservoirs of expertise, providing decision makers and development community in Asia and Pacific with up-to-date knowledge products and services tailored to client or regional needs.

Yet, it is one thing to advocate innovation, but another thing to carry it out. As a developing country, Pakistan lags quite for behind the developed countries in the overall scientific and technological level. Lack of investment has kept many Pakistani enterprises from developing self-owned key technologies. It is believed that strategic support the Pakistan government should now give to innovation can help address that problem. The more difficult thing is to effectively mobilize Pakistan into an innovation-oriented country. That will require unswerving efforts to fix various drawbacks in relevant systems and mechanism. The following strategic actions are needed.

* Pakistan has success story in science to product chain in nuclear field in the public funded organization. The important lessons need to be learned and replicated in other scientific organizations, particularly related to governance, leadership, working environment and scientific infrastructure. The most important aspects are recruitment and promotion of scientists. This homegrown research model should be followed in academic and research organizations to get results.

* Our universities in particular should follow this model, where recruitment and promotions in papers is made on merits but in real world it is based on politics. The persons without political links have no carrier security.

* The leadership positions like vice chancellor; dean and chairman or director at research institutes should be appointed only on transparent selection from national and international market to bring a change in science culture. The recruitment of foreign faculty will not be productive if the working environment is not conducive and there is not good governance. The promotion on selection in our universities is a dictate of western society. In Japanese and eastern systems, promotion is on seniority.

* Recent suicides among Chinese scientists have prompted questions over the levels of stress and responsibility that researchers are expected to cope with. In China some academics are questioning China's growing obsession with the "publish or perish" dictate of western science - a strategy it is adopting to compete with wealthier nations. There is also growing discontent among scientists, many of whom are lured back from abroad by well paid, high profile jobs. The rewards offered to promising scientists can be accompanied by intense competition and pressure to try to overtake scientists in the West. There is consensus that China needs to take better care of the physical and mental well-being of its scientists, by providing counseling and by ensuring that they are not overburdened with responsibilities.

The present government has successfully refocused the nation on economic development, ushering in robust economic growth. Now the country should chart an innovation-powered course based on home grown nuclear research and development model for sustainable growth.

The author belongs to Department of Agronomy University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. E-mail: uaf_amanullah@yahoo.com