JEDDAH – Cultural barriers, lack of adequate investment in research and development and a low rate of graduates in scientific fields are among major challenges faced by Islamic Development Bank member countries in fostering innovation. Finance leaders attending the week-long Innovation Forum hosted by the Islamic Development Bank Group that started on Sunday here are deliberating on these pressing issues.
The forum brought together international experts as well as youth to discuss ways to foster an innovation culture, building startup ecosystems, and find opportunities.
Youth unemployment is a stubborn problem faced by countries that has both a direct and indirect cost on governments, said Dr. Mimics Begivic, knowledge and innovation specialist at the UNDP Regional Center for Europe and the CIS in Istanbul that has been recently commissioned by the ISDB to develop a corporate innovative strategy in an effort to address and expand the civic opportunities for the youth.
“The bank recognizes youth unemployment is an issue in this region and believes there are ways to invest their resources and its legitimacy to go beyond the traditional methods and traditional partners to identify pockets of youth that are both disadvantaged but also might have capacities and skills to break through and design solutions,” Begivic told Saudi Gazette.
“We believe there are people out there invisible from the standard mechanisms of support,” she added. “They are innovating in their communities and not waiting for UNDP or aids or the bank because they cannot afford to wait. This is where the true innovation comes from. The people living with the biggest problem have the biggest incentive to solve it. Finding them and investing in their solutions is going to have the biggest breakthrough potential but also a difficult thing to do.”
It’s important that schools and education institutes promote innovation and not suppress it, said Dr. Nabeel Koshak, president of Baha University.
“One of the important recommendations made among the members is recognizing that the efforts in Islamic countries have started to create innovation centers but the ISDB seeks to create a network to work together,” he told Saudi Gazette.
“There remains a gap in funding to support SMEs in the Islamic world,” he said.
In Saudi Arabia, the last five years have seen a boost in innovation. “A number of incubators and accelerators has risen significantly as well as the investment funds. This has played a role in creating a startup ecosystem in Saudi Arabia for entrepreneurs.”
We have a pool of talents all over the Kingdom that complements this ecosystem with success stories, he added.
The major obstacles SMEs in Saudi Arabia are the regulations, he said, followed by competing and entering the market.
Funding is a significant challenge, said Datuk Mark Rozario, CEO of Malaysian Innovation Agency. “We need to ensure there are no gaps in the funding landscape. It’s important funding doesn’t stop in research or prevent an idea or business from moving on to commercialization.”
“Innovation comes from collaboration by sharing ideas with others,” he said. “We’re looking how to get companies and startups to collaborate with universities and work jointly on projects.”