Friday, November 20, 2009

Why Malaysia lacks innovation hotspots

World Bank expert on development issues Dr Shahid Yusof Malaysia is reported to have informed our NEAC that Malaysia lacks innovation hotspots to propel the development of homegrown technology.

What are "innovation hotspots"?

Dr Shahid, who is also World Bank economic adviser, defined innovation hotspots as urban areas that are a rich source of technological findings and has the entrepreneurship to convert some of these findings into commercial innovations. This is important to note.

Artificial innovation hotspots won't work

He made the disturbing and devastating observation that despite huge investments over the years to create such centres like Cyberjaya and Iskandar Malaysia, Malaysia has yet to produce these innovation hotspots. This is a clear indictment of the wrongheaded strategy pursued all along. The Malaysian government has been building, building and building hardware. There has been an utter disregard for the "software". Our education standards has declined appallingly.

So, can such an innovation hotspot be created? The short answer is “yes”, Dr Shahid said, but - and, please note this Najib and Idris Jala - it would probably take five to 10 years to achieve.

It would also require 3 things:

  • strong political commitment from the Government,
  • raising the quality of education and
  • a generous research funding policy.

FDIs don't engender innovation

“Foreign direct investment can help, but thus far spillovers have been weak,’’ the good Doctor said. This is an indictment of MITI and MIDA. I've read their charter about technology transfers for years. Yet, there's nothing to show in the form of budgrafting any technological prowess to Malaysians.

What it takes to create innovation hotspots

A key ingredient to develop hotspots is to have centres of basic and applied research that generate surplus ideas and entrepreneurial talents to commercialise them.

Above and, absolutely beyond everything else is the quality of Malaysian education.

There's really nothing more important than education. Without education there is no thinking mind, no inquisitive mind.

But, education must encourage a culture of questioning, a spirit of inquisitiveness.

My concern is that our nervous Malaysian government is not confident enough and intelligent enough to open the Pandora's Box of academic freedom in local universities that will push young Malaysian minds towards an innovative mindset.

Without local unversities being permitted to push the envelope in all respects, not just in science, and technology but equally so in sociology, economics, socio-economics and political science - for, all these fields are interconnected - there will be no light at the end of the tunnel.

That is why I place some hope with what Idris Jala and his team are trying to do. And, I fervently hope that I'm not wrong to place some faith in them.

They have to review the University and University Colleges Act 1971 which has probably snuffed out 2 generations of potential. Is there a political will for this?


walla said...

It is also instructive to consider other definitions of a hotspot.

Take the EIU definition of an R&D hotspot, basically the tri-helix model:

"a place where companies can tap into exiting networks of scientific and technical expertise which have good links to academic research facilities and provide an environment where innovation is supported and easy to commercialize."

Then there is Gratton's formula for a hotspot:

"Hotspot = (cooperative mindset) x (boundary spanning) x (igniting purpose) x (productive capacity)"

One may say that the second definition applied to all elements of the first definition should result in an innovation hotspot.

With that in mind, consider next the following two illuminants:

The conclusion from both is this:

that it has only been a numbers game without first knowing clearly what is to be created and what are involved to create and to maintain.

In other words, just form, no substance. Or, plug, and hope to play.

Which means that the 5-10 years mentioned as needed for us to create a real hotspot may itself be considered too optimistic.

Because, from the first link, we can see that even the base human capital is awry, and from the second link, we can see that present hotspoting is misaligned and has systemic fault-lines.

For instance, there's nothing said about educational content and how to think and apply. It's all about the problems of delivery.

So if the base is weak, the next stage of feeder institutions like universities, research houses and institutional support organizations including planners will also not be strong, all the more because their main human capital is local.

The short-cut then is to get outside inputs while re-engineering all the internal structures for planning, training and research so as to align all towards what a hotspot should be.

But even if we can attract them to come and even if we can reengineer everything, where do we get the critical mass of right human capital to build, populate and maintain the hotspots at a success level on par with the other hotspots in the world..?

Which are here:

In other words, how do we groom in just the next 5-10 years enough world-class innovators to work in the reengineered hotspots (or new ones) and come out with enough world-class (or even regional-class) inventions that will impress people who have put their money into the hotspots when the whole pipeline before entering the hotspots is out of shape? And one doesn't mean the potholes leading to the places which have poor roadsigns.

So, it could take 20-30 years instead just to groom 1 real innovation hotspot. This is more realistic.

But do we have another 20-30 years
just to make amends the mistakes made in the last thirty?

By the time we do innovation hotspots would have changed into something else. And then we will have to change our hotspot all over again in order to remain relevant.

Please feel free to rebut this line of thinking.

Meanwhile, the usuals:

Mercifully, things behind firewalls won't be posted as well.

msleepyhead said...

de minimis,

We are already late into the game and our education system is still stuck in producing manpower for the industrial revolution kind of mode.

Couple that with our education inflation, when a degree is now required for the same job that only needed an MCE thirty years ago.

An interesting read.