Innovation will drive change through the GCC

The Arab region has a long and compelling history of entrepreneurship

FILE PHOTO: UAE flag flies over a boat at Dubai Marina, Dubai, United Arab Emirates May 22, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo

The UN has named 2021 the International Year of the Creative Economy and fittingly marked the 4th Annual World Creativity and Innovation Day on April 21.

With the world’s nations now channelling as many resources as they can towards accelerating their economies in line with post-pandemic recovery, this is truly the best time in history to explore how we can tap into our creative mindsets and shape innovative solutions to drive our region forward.

The Arab region has a long and compelling history of entrepreneurship. Countries in the GCC region have developed at a rapid pace over the past few decades, with this growth attributed to its strong leadership and the economic growth fuelled by regional businesses. Central to this growth story are the investments made to diversify our economies, and the special focus on tourism and strategic global partnerships.

The region is on track to achieve the strategic visions that each country has outlined for itself to become future ready. We have witnessed significant investments in national and regional infrastructure projects, most notably the Gulf Railway, and have also made remarkable progress in the area of renewable energy. The region regularly hosts conferences and trade shows featuring experts and industry leaders from across the globe that go a long way to enhance awareness on latest advancements.

Matching steps with this progress, our creative industries have also come into their own, with our region hosting cultural events and film festivals, while continuing to invest heavily in media and local content.

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We must foster a culture of innovation across the region that celebrates 'out of the box' thinking

But there is always room to grow. Innovation can occur at every level, within or outside organisations, and holds the power to generate long term and short term benefits. Importantly, these benefits drive economic growth, while also boosting societal development and helping to empower citizens.

Innovation can take myriad shapes. From generating new ideas to creating new industries and demand, as well as through identifying an opportunity in a given context.

A recent example of innovation at work may be seen in the pivoting of businesses and individuals who noticed the sudden spike in demand for sanitisation products and personal protective equipment at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, and began producing these highly sought-after products.

Relatives wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) mourn a man, who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during his funeral at a crematorium in New Delhi, India April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

They identified a gap and were able to generate a lot of profit while plugging it to serve society’s needs. Large corporations with access to wide scale manufacturing facilities were able to reap the benefits of this demand, as were smaller businesses and even individuals working from their homes, who had the necessary skill and drive to sell handmade products.

Aside from investments in typically creative fields, such as the arts, technology, design and business, we must foster a culture of innovation across the region that celebrates ‘out of the box’ thinking, particularly with regard to problem-solving. I have no doubt that some of the most talented and creative minds within our region are not even fully aware of their capabilities, while many that are do not have the tools to bring their ideas and creations to market.

The public and private sector today have an excellent opportunity to collaborate on promoting strategies that encourage creativity across all strata of the population.

Also, it is crucial to involve our youth in this journey of innovation and it is never too early. Educational institutions can host workshops and competitions that empower students to tap into their creative faculties and allow their ideas to crystallise into projects that can bring about sustainable change.

Students must be educated about the broad scope of innovation across multiple fields – from public service to business, to science and technology, and to the arts, design and entertainment.

As recent research stresses, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are key drivers of a country’s GDP and are responsible for job creation and subsequent economic growth. SME owners are some of the most creative minds and in keeping with our region's history of entrepreneurship we must continue to support them.

However, times are tough and potential creative entrepreneurs might be reluctant to start their businesses in a post-pandemic economy. This is where governments and financial institutions can work to offer special incentives, such as reduced rates of borrowing and fast-track access to set up businesses.

Existing businesses can emphasise innovation as a core objective and aim to integrate a creative focus where possible, across all levels of their value chain. The multiple innovations to help citizens carry on with their lives while minimising the risk of contagion is one positive outcome from the pandemic. This is an important lesson that businesses should hold on to while considering growth. Unexpected circumstances can push businesses into creating new products or services, or into tailoring existing ones to suit the current landscape.

However, a proactive approach towards innovation enables organisations to keep an eye on the market pulse and develop new concepts on an ongoing basis to help them achieve their long-term goals.

The GCC region has managed to successfully diversify its economic interests while decreasing its reliance on oil over the last few decades. Like most nations around the world, we suffered enormous losses to life and property as a result of Covid-19.

Our wise leaders though have mitigated the worst effects of the crisis to the extent possible. Our region is now at an interesting crossroads. I believe there is no greater source of inspiration than our own past. We can strengthen our economies following the challenges we have faced. Through meticulous planning and a renewed commitment to innovation across fields, we can certainly achieve our long-term goals and equip our economies for the future.

Mohammed Alardhi is the executive chairman of Investcorp and chairman of Sohar International

Mohammed Alardhi

Mohammed Alardhi

Mohammed Alardhi is executive chairman of Investcorp and chairman of Bank Sohar, and was the longest-serving Omani head of the Royal Air Force of Oman