By Jorge Emilio Sierra Montoya
As the name implies, innovation means doing something new, novel if you will, that goes beyond what is known so far and allows, in practice, to improve the production processes especially in corporations through the use, for example, new technologies. I consider useful to reiterate in a brief summary what innovation is, a term that already became very common everywhere, from academia to government and other social organizations.
But this subject matter has its origins a long time ago. Let’s say that it is almost inherent to human nature and, above all, has been key to the survival of man throughout history, the foundation of ongoing progress. Wasn’t fire a great innovation? Or the development of weapons for hunting animals, tools to cultivate the fertile soil and even kitchen items necessary to store and prepare food? And what about modern machines a characteristic of the industrial age? Or what about today’s sophisticated technologies with the embodiment of an extraordinary revolutionary age in information?
Yes! Innovation has always been present, but it is more so now, in the recent decades, from the scientific advances that have enabled us to achieve unprecedented progress, stunning, and further improving the living conditions of men worldwide.
A question of life and death
In fact, there are some who qualify this factor, connected -we insist- and linked with today’s sophisticated technologies, as the main determinant of economic growth, even more so especially when the factors of production (labor and capital, for example) still manage to multiply their productivity and thus raising their competitiveness, something indispensable, vital, in today’s business, whatever they may be doing.
With more innovation there are new technologies that enable a greater economic growth and even a greater social development in items of healthcare, education, nutrition and food sciences, etc.
From above it is easy to conclude the enormous importance of innovation in enterprises. Those who do not innovate, will run out of business or are doomed to make no profit. This applies even at the administrative level of the companies, as confirmed by the use of appropriate techniques in the financial sector, personnel management, whose superiors in charge have to adopt the theories that are trendy, from reengineering to Corporate Social Responsibility as an appropriate management tool.
In general, such advances with their trendy technologies are the result of greater scientific knowledge (even in social sciences such as economics and politics, history and sociology), there is made possible a phenomena such as mass production processes, quality and economies of scale, among many others that express higher effectiveness and generate greater demand for various goods and services.
But, the wonderful situation described has also negative aspects: the gap between efficient companies and inefficient companies, the same as countries that have the best technologies and countries that depend on those that possess them. Here is a breakdown.
More wealthy and poor
Indeed, the major economies are advancing rapidly, while small countries are crawling and are increasingly far-away from reaching the development of the first group of countries. “The rich are richer and the poor get poorer” is repeated everywhere while specialists in this field, such as Thomas Piketty, have cautioned about the high levels of inequality that seem to accompany capitalism to the detriment of millions of human beings.
Such dramatic circumstances, which are obvious, undoubtedly originate on the fact that innovations, with the current corresponding development of technologies, are the fruit of scientific research, the same that usually requires large investments, which are usually assumed only in rich countries, with funding from both government and private sector and represented by powerful multinational firms, whose brands are well known.
Let’s think only in the field of telecommunications and in the pharmaceutical industry, which are just two examples. In poor countries, to make matters worse, is taken the easy path forward of a so-called transfer of technology (no innovation, for reasons I just mentioned) and while they are applauded by improving the production after replacing other equipment that are considered obsolete, it is also a sign of dependence and, ultimately, lack of creativity and initiative, these are essential parts of the development.
In fact, our companies, with a few exceptions, do not invest in research, and thus do not reach new forms of production due to the lack of innovation. They are dedicated simply to import the latest technologies from the international markets, as if that was the sole solution to the backwardness and poverty.
A Call upon universities
And our universities, what? What role do they play in regards to this issue? Do they generate the necessary scientific knowledge in order to create new technologies that urge companies in an effort to be more efficient in a highly competitive external market and on the proper domestic market, where globalization provides the doors wide open to large multinational companies?
Without going into Honduras, it is suffice to say that there are still glaring flaws in the educational process (from simple memorization, in a passive attitude, repeating “like parrots” the words of Professor José Consuegra Higgins), which in principle hinder innovation and thus preventing their transcendence beyond the frontiers of knowledge that we made reference above.
There is also missing the innumerable and considerable resources not only public but private and from the universities themselves, which, to make matters worse, continue to be isolated, regardless of the instrumental social problems that they should help resolve in a significant team work manner, while maintaining a kind of divorce with corporations, unfavorably viewed for being engaged only in their own business.
In short, it is a requirement to establish an ironclad alliance between universities and enterprises, with the support of the state, under the model of new innovations where each sector – according to what we discussed in the Basic Course of Social Corporate Responsibility – would be fulfilling its mission: the university, with the production of scientific knowledge; corporations, with the development of technologies, and the government with the regulations and strengthening of this partnership. Here is a key element to development that we should take a look at!
Jorge Emilio Sierra Montoya is the Director of “Desarrollo Indoamericano” Magazine, la Universidad Simón Bolívar de Barranquilla, Colombia.
Translation from Spanish by Peter M. Tase