innovation


Social media, especially Twitter, is not optimal for nuanced discussion of policy options. In the context of a talk I gave at the 2017 Sri Lanka Economic Summit on innovation, broadly defined, someone suggested co-working spaces as the priority. My response was: Tech and innovation cannot be reduced to ICT innovation — Rohan Samarajiva (@samarajiva) July 26, 2017 For reasons unclear to me this is being interpreted as an outright rejection of co-working spaces 2/ when I raised this once on Twitter Dr. @samarajiva outright rejected saying, Tech co-working spaces is not a priority! — Sesiri Pathirane (@Sesiri) August 26, 2017 So I thought it would be good to look at what I had actually said at the Sri Lanka Economic Summit.
Many see the promotion of innovation simply in terms of increasing reported R&D expenditures. I disagree. That is why I like the Global Innovation Index which is a composite index that looks not only at inputs, but also at outputs and innovation efficiency. Sadly, Sri Lanka is failing according to the GII. When compared with lower-middle-income countries, Sri Lanka is not in the top ten in anything.
Full video of the IDRC International Women's Day panel on "Is innovation sexist?" is now available online. Our CEO Helani Galpaya was part of this panel.

What is innovation?

Posted by on April 20, 2017  /  1 Comments

Having just heard from a funder with the word innovation in its name that a concept note in disaster risk reduction that we submitted was not innovative enough, I’ve been thinking about this slippery term. Then comes along the NYT tech columnist Farhad Manjoo: There is a rich history in this industry of taking someone else’s idea and adding your own spin on it to improve tech for everyone. Apple’s Steve Jobs and the team behind the original Mac were inspired by a bunch of ideas floating around tech research circles, including at Xerox PARC. Then Microsoft’s chief executive, Bill Gates, saw the Mac’s success and — by creating a new business model for the PC industry — he ushered in an even bigger deal: graphical computers that could get cheap enough for most people to own. Or look at the smartphone.
Learning from the experience of others, the licensing regime in Myanmar made it possible for companies that specialized in the operation of towers to function (unlike, say, in Sri Lanka). When the main business of a company is the leasing of space for antenna, it has incentives to use the towers most efficiently and to allow as many mobile network operators to use the space as possible. It is not that concerns over aesthetics and health are absent, but it would be fair to say that Myanmar could not have made the rapid progress it has achieved without this element of intelligent policy design. Fortunately for Myanmar’s telecom infrastructure companies, the market for rooftop real estate is booming. A fourth telco is due to launch this year, and Telenor and Ooredoo are in the midst of a major urban rollout.
I was included in a five-person panel discussing the university education in Sri Lanka in light of the currently heightened interest re relaxing the government monopoly. In my opening comments, I referred to research conducted in 2012 by the Human Capital Research team. I also talked about the need to allow innovation in the educational system so that we can better respond to the fast changing external environment. The video of the talk show.
I was surprised to hear an otherwise knowledgeable person participating in the Grand Challenges discussion here at University of Washington say there was no innovation in China. The time and place were not right for that discussion. But then NYT came with a substantive refutation: Snapchat and Kik, the messaging services, use bar codes that look like drunken checkerboards to connect people and share information with a snap of their smartphone cameras. Facebook is working on adding the ability to hail rides and make payments within its Messenger app. Facebook and Twitter have begun live-streaming video.
Current research on micro-work platforms has given LIRNEasia much to think about. The conditions for successful participation in platforms are quite different in developing economies than in the developed economies they originate in. But that does not mean we should over regulate them, or regulate them badly. There is a lot of good innovation happening here, that requires space. We hope to address the questions raised in this article in the Economist, that concludes as follows: Regulators still have much to learn about how to deal with platforms.
LIRNEasia was a core partner for Sri Lanka’s first national summit on “Foresight & Innovation for Sustainable Human Development” that was convened by UNDP and the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs. Held in Colombo from 24-25 May 2016, the summit brought together more than 300 people from government, private sector, and civil society from all over the country. Developing foresight and fostering innovation is a priority for the government and underscored by the Prime Minster’s attendance at the event. I spoke on the first day after the opening. My talk was on the leveraging both new and traditional data if the goal is to get towards real-time responsiveness and enhanced resilience.
LIRNEasia has had a deep commitment to decentralized innovation. Specifically in relation to Pakistan, we advocated more reasonable revenue splits for app developers and actions to reduce the transaction costs for them as far back as in May 2010. We are happy to see actions on those lines reported from Pakistan. Irfan Wahab Khan, Deputy CEO of Telenor Pakistan, while speaking with ProPakistani, confirmed the plans and said that Telenor Pakistan is determined to play a role in nurturing and strengthening startups ecosystem in Pakistan. “In addition to giving these startups an access to our assets, such as distribution channels, retail network, Telenor Pakistan has bundled a tool-kit with payment, location and other similar APIs, that will be made available to these selected startups”, explained Irfan Wahab Khan.
The first part of the Quartz article is the usual complaint about Whatsapp getting a free ride. While they may be eating into the messaging and voice revenues of mobile networks, OTTs like Whatsapp aren’t completely bad for business. They can help fuel data consumption—a growing revenue stream for network operators if exploited well. South Africa’s third largest network, with 19.6 million subscribers by the end of 2014, saw an opportunity a year ago by zero-rating Whatsapp on its network for close to a year.
“A hub is the central part of a wheel, rotating on or with the axle, and from which the spokes radiate.” Singapore talks about about hubs, and generally pulls off the creation of the hub, relegating others to spoke status. But this has had the unfortunate side-effect of making hub a bit of a meaningless word. And as anyone who has had spokes damaged in a bicycle wheel can testify, a hub is useless without spokes. LIRNEasia is a born-regional organization.
Dr. Gordon Gow is Associate Professor in Communication and Technology, University of Alberta delivered a speech “Stewarding Technology for Inclusive Innovation,” at the SSHRC Success Stories 2014 event
We’ve been thinking about how to promote mobile innovation for some time. Many governments are also grappling with this issue. What Ooredoo is doing in Myanmar is worth the attention of all in this space. They are picking innovators from large competitions and giving them expert help. What is truly unusual is that they will not take the equity stake they are entitled to take, unless the new company grows to USD 1 million.
The New York Times carries this fascinating story about Hike, a new app that is being driven by Sunil Mittal’s son. Those who consider every smartphone app as a mortal threat to the telecom business should read this. In a first for messaging apps, Hike allows its users to send free text messages to people who use “feature phones” —low-end devices that lack a smartphone’s ability to download apps — and to people who usually keep their phones’ Internet connection turned off to save money. It allows chats within groups of up to 100 people, and transfer of large files, a useful ability for students exchanging homework files. India is the third-largest smartphone market by sales, after China and the United States, and since the end of last year it has been the fastest growing.
When US competition regulators turned down the AT&T-T-Mobile merger, many thought that would be the end of T-Mobile. Instead, it was the end of business as usual. T-Mobile branded and marketed all this as the “Un-carrier,” rolling out new versions of its plans — already five and counting — even as competitors have struggled to match the previous one. “Surprise is an effective competitive tactic,” Mr. Legere said.