Saudi Arabia together with the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait lead the Middle East in overall innovation performance, according to the Global Innovation Index 2013 (GII) published by Cornell University, INSEAD, a major international business school, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the UN.
This year's study benefits from the experience of its knowledge partners — Booz & Company, the Confederation of Indian Industry, du and Huawei, as well as an advisory board of 14 international experts.
Despite the economic crisis, innovation is alive and well. R&D spending levels are surpassing 2008 levels in most countries and successful local hubs are thriving.
This year's report casts additional light on the local dynamics of innovation, an area which has remained under-measured globally.
While Saudi Arabia ranks top in the MENA region in market sophistication (credit, investment, and trade and competition), Kuwait in knowledge and technology outputs (knowledge creation, knowledge impact and knowledge diffusion), and Qatar in creative outputs (creative intangibles, creative goods and services and online creativity).
"Worldwide, innovation is increasingly seen as a powerful tool to strengthen the competitiveness and global relevance of corporations and nations," said Bruno Lanvin, the report's co-editor and executive director of INSEAD's European Competitiveness Initiative.
Underperforming MENA countries can catch up with innovation leaders if they "learn" to innovate. This will require them to transform their innovation inputs (on which they perform relatively well) into marketplace results (on which they perform considerably lower) more efficiently, said Hatem Samman, lead economist and director at one of the centers of Booz & Company.
"Many MENA countries are establishing innovation hubs in which large state-owned enterprise champions, whose business goals are aligned with the objectives of the innovation hub, are acting as the critical drivers of hub activities," said Rasheed Eltayeb, principal in the public sector practice at Booz & Company.
"Dynamic innovation hubs are playing a greater role in the Middle East's innovation efforts, and are multiplying around the world despite the difficult state of the global economy," said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.
"These hubs leverage local advantages with a global outlook on markets and talent," said Gurry.
The GII 2013 looked at 142 economies around the world, using 84 indicators, including the quality of top universities, availability of microfinance, venture capital deals — gauging both innovation capabilities and measurable results.
Published annually since 2007, the GII has become a chief benchmarking tool for business executives, policy makers and others seeking insight into the state of innovation around the world.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined the authors of the report and its knowledge partners in presenting the GII 2013 findings at the high-level segment of the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Geneva on July 1.
"The results of the GII provide testimony to the global nature of innovation today," said Dutta, co-editor of the report and Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University.
"The creation of an environment that could unleash the potential for innovation for all in a sustainable manner is the way to unlocking the true, tangible potential of value creation; it will lay the groundwork for societal change and develop a framework for cohesive synergies through collaboration," said Osman Sultan, CEO of du.