Transforming a vision into reality at the ASBAR World Forum

As with most things in life – timing is everything. So it was recently when I attended the ASBAR World Forum in Saudi Arabia.

Like other Gulf States, Saudi is looking to move from a “rentier” economy based on oil to one based on entrepreneurship, knowledge and innovation. The Saudi 2030 Vision clearly articulates their vision and the long term strategy to achieve that vision. Much has already been set in motion and indeed achieved to work towards that vision of a new and different future.

Like other experts who were invited to join the meeting, I was invited to advise on how best to move that strategic vision into reality.  My contribution was based not only on years of research on innovation and the necessary components that enable places to realise their opportunities but from my years of practical experience of driving just such a programme in Manchester (UK) and more recently in various London-based initiatives.

The challenge to Saudi however is to learn from global experts but to ensure that its approach is “Saudized”. Too often those emulating global leaders do not pay enough attention to the differential conditions and cultures that require to be taken into consideration in localisation.

The trick with innovation ecosystem development is that they are (and must be) peculiar to the specific context and conditions in which they are built. The UK when in the late 1990’s it was decided to actively build a knowledge-based economy, relied too much on just re-creating the apparent systems seen in the successful regions of the USA.  We renamed many places “silicon” (Silicon Fen, Silicon Glen and, more recently, Silicon Roundabout) whilst initially failing to understand and adjust for the underlying differences in the institutions; the systems and the stage of development when compared to the USA. None of these could ever mirror Silicon Valley and fortunately we have gone on to realise that we must modify our approaches to enable them to work effectively. We have at last begun to extract the essential underlying principles and practices from areas of success and tailor them to the local context. Barriers and facilitators vary from place to place and are context specific. Given the vastly different cultural context in Saudi Arabia this is even more relevant.

What was refreshing in the visit, was not that the UK Government and the Prime Minister noted that very week that the UK can do much to support entrepreneurship and innovation in Saudi but that the people I met there were focused on moving to action and delivery and making a reality of the 2030 Vision.

My paper on establishing a vibrant innovation ecosystem can be found on our website and I am looking forward to tracking progress and supporting efforts as appropriate.