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Unlocking Human Imagination: Who Drives Innovation?

In the 2013-2014 World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report, out of the English-speaking Caribbean, the three countries with the highest global competitiveness rankings included Barbados (47), Trinidad and Tobago (92) and Jamaica (94). Interestingly enough, when it came to placing countries into different stages of development (an adaptation of Michael Porter’s theory of stages), Trinidad and Tobago was the only English-speaking Caribbean country along with 36 other countries placed in the final stage of development, the innovation-driven stage.

In seeking to improve competitiveness, an innovation-driven economy needs to tirelessly inculcate the tenets of innovation throughout the public sector, across its firms and among its populace. As it relates to innovation, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, had this to say:

“Innovation becomes even more critical in terms of an economy’s ability to foster future prosperity…It is therefore vital that leaders from business, government and civil society work collaboratively to create education systems and enable environments which foster innovation.”

On October 8-10, 2014, Trinidad and Tobago will be the first English-speaking country to host the Americas Competitiveness Forum (ACF) in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Competitiveness Network (RIAC). The ACF is annually used as a means to bring together decision-makers from the public sector, private sector and academia to explore ways in which competitiveness and innovation can be improved throughout the Caribbean and across the Americas.

The ACF theme this year is “The Human Imagination at Work: Driving Competitiveness, Powering Innovation.” According to the website for the VIII ACF in Trinidad and Tobago, the theme was born out of the following thinking, “Human imagination focuses on the creative aspect of human capital – innovation and entrepreneurship.” Trinidad and Tobago most certainly isn’t alone in recognizing the power of human imagination, as this view has been echoed in discussions and literature around innovation and competitiveness. In a recent talk on sustaining continuous innovation, Teresa Amabile (Director of Research in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at the Harvard Business School) stated that one of the four key ingredients for doing this is an imaginative perspective, where creative thinking is crucial for continuous innovation.

Taking into consideration what was said above with regard to innovation, who in society are the powerhouses for continuous innovation? One may deduce that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and micro enterprises are a breeding ground for innovation. Empirical studies going as far back as 2003 have shown that SMEs contribute to over 50% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in high income countries and closer to 40% in middle income countries. Furthermore, for both of these country categories, SMEs contribute to over 50% in overall employment. Thus, in aiming to maximize the benefits of unlocking human imagination, we need to be cognizant of the individuals and firms that provide this significant contribution to the overall wealth and growth of our countries.

Source: Ayyagari et al. 2003.

The role of SMEs is just one of the many topics that may be discussed during the VIII ACF. Panel discussions leading up to the forum have already begun and have included panellists from the creative industries such as Earl Lovelace, Mungal Patasar, Brian MacFarlane, Steve Oudit, from the manufacturing sector such as Nicholas Lok Jack of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association, and Richard Lewis of the Council for Competitiveness and Innovation. Further information on the program can be found here.

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