Bridging innovation gap

In my previous treatise, I discoursed the lackluster state of innovation in the country based on the 2018 Global Innovation Index (GII) which ranked the Philippines 73rd out of 126 economies, which was steady from a year ago.

The key weaknesses were likewise highlighted in human capital and research index as determined by expenditure on education, pupil-teacher ratio, global research and development companies’ expenditure, and ease of doing business – positioning the Philippines as ‘below average’ in regional innovation ranking.

The European countries dominate the top 10 innovative countries list, with Switzerland placing first. The only Asian country Singapore placing fifth, and the United States moving two notches down to sixth.

We somehow already know why they are in this place. These countries scored high in their innovation performance based both on each country’s innovation inputs (such as regulatory environment, higher education, R&D and infrastructure) and its innovation outputs (such as online creativity and knowledge creation).

How can our country inch closer to the top?

At the root of it all is the state of our educational system which needs massive change. Reforms in policy, pedagogy, infrastructure and educational technology are all critical and urgent especially in the public-school system. These involve increasing teachers’ pay, eliminating, if not reducing corruption in the Department of Education, transforming the pedagogy from rote memorization to reflective learning, building the much-needed classrooms, and extending internet connectivity to schools in the boondocks and provinces.

This is a mouthful but in the long-run, a progressive educational system will fuel sustainable growth.

From a regulatory standpoint, its laudable that our government recently signed into law the much-awaited Ease of Doing Business Act. While it’s being implemented in Quezon City, its nationwide rollout remains unclear, specially there’s still no technology blueprint in place to enable automation of government processes. It’s urgent that the right technology platform that’s future-proof, flexible, and well-integrated is implemented to enable starups and new foreign entrants to start business in the country.

Another laudable move by the Department of Science and Technology through the Technology Application and Promotion Institute (DOST-TAPI) is to help inventors and scientists from various organizations nationwide in their business planning for commercialization activities.

On industry level, there’s a need for local and even multinational companies to invest in research and development (R&D) and collaborate well with universities to produce an economy where innovation is high on the agenda. A couple of universities have just ventured into “innovation hubs” to bring together corporations and startups. But this should be operationalized and institutionalized to make it sustainable.

One country we can emulate is India, which has consistently been climbing up its Global Innovation Index (GII) rankings since 2015; and last year climbed three spots to 57th.

As an example, in Chennai, India you will be awe-struck to see the sprawling 1.2 million sq ft, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M), Research Park, which houses almost 100 entities – research companies, innovation arms of large corporates, start-ups and incubators – and has already facilitated filing of over 60 patents.

It created a sustainable bridge between innovations created in the classroom and industry and produced a culture and ecosystem of technology research and industry-academia interaction.

On the organization level, companies need to understand and embrace innovation – not just lip service but a true culture of innovation. The problem with the topic of innovation is that it’s a hazy subject that business owners think it’s all about coming up with new products or services.

In our country where 99 percent of companies are small and medium enterprises, and most of them still run by first generation founders, the resistance to innovate is just deeply ingrained.

In my survey among executives and employees of various companies, there’s a culture of conservatism and status-quo that pervades in local organizations that stunts innovative thinking. It’s here where second-generation owners should come in and assert their world view about the impeding 4th Industrial Revolution.

Innovation is a discipline and a culture. It starts with a change in our mindsets and facilitating its spread and growth in our organizations.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author may be emailed at The author is President & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consultancy Inc, a digital and culture transformation firm. He is the Chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University.