Innovation can shape a future beyond oil and gas

Drawing by Niyaz Karim

Drawing by Niyaz Karim

Russia’s greatest asset is its high level of education, which makes it an ideal hub for innovation that can lead to economic development.

Innovation is at the forefront of national development strategies, for the most part relying on the most important resource: human capital. Russia is not standing on the sidelines of this trend, as it has all the conditions needed for another innovation breakthrough.

Russia’s greatest asset is its high level of education: knowledge has always been highly prized. The great Russian literature of the 19th century was a product of Peter the Great’s modernisation. As the Londoner Alexander Herzen said, Russia responded to Peter the Great’s challenge with the genius of Pushkin. The development of the sciences was another part of that response: important breakthroughs included Mendeleev’s periodic table, the first laser (in the Fifties), the Sputnik moment, and leadership in space exploration and nuclear energy.

This was made possible by serious classical education, which was preserved in the Soviet era – education that intellectually challenged students from their first years at  school. The basic sciences were given a high priority, though bipolar rivalry served as a stimulus during the Cold War.

Now, in very different geopolitical conditions, this potential must be tapped to meet the needs of social development. It holds the key to changing the nature of economic development and overcoming the consequences of the global financial crisis.

As President Putin put it, the key task of our economic policy is to steer the Russian economy on to the path of innovation. In order to address comprehensively all the challenges, we need to create a socially orientated development model in which the main economic growth factors are not the traditional industries in the fuel and energy complex, but rather expanded investment and support for innovation in the science-intensive and hi-tech sectors. And this process is already under way.

This goal can be accomplished only through close collaboration with the main players in the global innovation process. Work has been launched in a bilateral format with working groups on innovation and technology with Austria, the Netherlands, the US and France. Moscow’s annual international forum Open Innovations, the chief aim of which is to forecast technological trends and determine the role of the innovation environment in global processes, is gaining momentum.

This year the forum was on October 14-16, with China as main partner and joint organiser. The key theme was Creative Disruption: Staying Competitive in the 21st Century. The Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, listed the priorities for international co-operation in innovative development, including creating infrastructure to support innovation, raising the innovative potential of the largest Russian state-owned companies, and the need to concentrate the resources of the government, science and business.

The forum participants also discussed a host of problems associated with closing the technological gap between countries, as well as the challenge of converging technology and knowledge into a range of breakthrough solutions at the interface of science, healthcare, education, and hi-tech.

According to the science and business magazine MIT Technology Review, Russia is already investing more than the US and the UK in nanotech structures. This will soon be one of Russia’s competitive advantages, especially given its traditional strengths in chemistry, physics, and mathematics. This will determine the face of Russia as a partner in international innovative development as early as within a few years.

Alexander Yakovenko is Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He was previously Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

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