Of competitiveness and innovation

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

An eerie feeling of end-run in Greece’s uphill struggle to leave behind the shadows of successive crises – from the decade-long debt crisis to the corona-virus one and now to the geopolitically-tinted energy crisis with a resurgent inflation backdrop – and to contend for a positive future in the emerging new global set-up, such a feeling was present in the Global Innovation Summit than ran for five days along the Annual Meeting of the GFCC in Athens (with an extension to the outlying city of Ioannina).

The GFCC, that is the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils, constitutes a network of leaders and organisations from all around the world. Founded in 2010, at the height of globalization but also just after the international system had to deal with the financial crisis, the GFCC strives to bring together know-how from more than 35 countries “to enable mutual learning […] develop and implement original, creative ideas, concepts and tools to navigate today’s complex competitive landscape”.

Competitiveness has always been an elusive pursuit. At a country level this “set of institutions, policies and factors that determine productivity” (definition taken from the WEF) has been a recurring aspiration to ameliorate one’s fate in the global relay race. From institutional reforms to the incorporation of innovation, all sorts of remedies are brought to bear for a country to gain ground in the various competitiveness lists assembled by the likes of the World Bank, the WEF, the IMD etc. More recently, the notion of competitivity has been increasingly used at a regional/local setting, with the EU contributing to that effect with its cohesion policies. “From local to global” becomes the new motto – with innovation leading to that effect.

The Global Innovation Summit co-organised by Compete.gr (the Greek chapter of GFCC) and the Delphi Economic Forum has tried to cast its net quite wide indeed: digitalization throughout the Greek economy, a shift towards a “more knowledge-intensive” production model, enlisting the financial sector in the competitivity league – all were dealt with. Alex Patelis, chief economic advisor to the Greek PM, went over legal/institutional changes meant to ameliorate the business environment; Lucas Papademos, former Vice-President of the ECB, and interim Prime Minister (2011-12) set out the role of structural reforms in an ever-changing environment; Haya Al -Saud of the Havolution Foundation (Saudi Arabia) and Machinari Hamaguchi of the Science and Technology Agency/SCADRA (Japan) presented, respectively, the progress made in human longevity and in vaccine development. The Academy of Athens came on board especially insofar environmental issues were concerned; so was the city of Ioannina with its Technology Park, an example of “place-based innovation” and of contribution to regional and national growth in a bottom-up approach

The major issue at stake was how the fast-changing global landscape dictates new competitive strategies. To the GFCC, “digitalization and technology growth, coupled with the threats of climate change, inequality and social unbalances, along with the need for rapid energy transitions, are driving big shifts in societies”.

If such is the overall setting for the on-going debate over competitiveness, the “place-based innovation”, is called to action. That is, understanding that “infrastructures, people, natural resources and most business assets are geographically localized” and looking for competitiveness on such a base, brings to the fore the importance of local and regional economies. “Place-based innovation is essential to balance national economies and drive inclusive, resilient and competitive local and national economies”.

Five days of discussions and experience-sharing with interesting take-aways; still, no easy nor one-size-fits-all approaches available.