I’m catching up on an item from IP Watch last month on the importance of knowledge-building for development:
The widening gap in scientific and technological capabilities between some developing countries suffering persistent poverty and rich industrialised countries brings to question why some countries are catching up with richer countries, while others are not. Two key factors for success and innovation are knowledge building and the role of the state as a facilitator, according to UN officials.
The views were put forth in a book launched at a side event to the 13th United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development in late May. The roundtable, organised by the International Centre for Trade and sustainable Development (ICTSD) on 20 May, aimed to prompt discussions on the results of the book and their relevance for policy discussions on innovation in international fora.
The authors found that rich countries built strong institutions as a complement to their production systems. That allowed them to build up strong production and the exportation of high quality goods and services, a path followed by emerging economies. However, poor countries continued to produce raw materials for the richer countries. Central to the production activities of all countries that became rich is a set of industrial and innovation policies, they said.
The book entitled “Latecomer Development: Innovation and Knowledge for Economic Growth” is authored by Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka, director of the Monitoring & Research Division of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, and Padmashree Gehl Sampath, economic affairs officer in the Policy and Capacity Building Branch of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The book was actually published last year. According to its abstract:
The most important issue for development centres on the debate about the centrality of knowledge, technology and innovation to the process of economic development. While this much is broadly agreed, what is at issue is the precise mechanics of overcoming economic development challenges in different contexts. At the heart of it all is about how economies at different levels deploy the unending streams of information and knowledge to developmental ends. In time, the notion of income convergence between the poorer South and the wealthy North has proved a mirage, while a new economic divide has in fact occurred within the South itself, and as well, between regions and within regions. The debate relating to latecomers is thus framed in discussions about regions and countries that arrive late to mastering industrialization in achieving economic prosperity through the use of knowledge. In other words, a new divide has emerged among the latecomers themselves, and with it, greater conceptual complexity in the ways of our understanding of the divergent ways of economic development. We have thus separated “fast followers” and new “late comers”.
In the powerpoint from the May briefing, they identify “frontier” countries as US, Japan, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Israel. Fast followers are South Africa, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico and Russia. Those moving from fast followers to frontier are Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore. Interestingly they place India and China as moving from late comers to fast followers.
The briefing also makes the point that “Innovation is not about R&D, it’s the use of knowledge in application.” However, they seem stuck in the standard model of technological catch-up driven by traditional science-based research.
That is my one critique of the work. While they identify knowledge as the key driver, they do not explore the various types and roles of knowledge — including knowledge as business methods and the importance of knowledge absorptions as well as creation.
So, a useful piece of work. But clearly much more needs to be done in understanding the link between knowledge and international economic development.