News archive - World Economic Forum’s Competitiveness and Innovation Accelerator in the Western Balkan has been kicked-off

This is the first regional accelerator in the WEF’s Global Accelerator Network. The Strategic Dialogue on the Western Balkans is a key initiative of the Forum to support the future-oriented agenda that will enable economic growth, increase in competitiveness and readiness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Western Balkan region.

“Without a strategic innovation function that can enhance the capacities to incubate and accelerate new technologies, companies in the Western Balkans will continue to stockpiling undeveloped inventions and this will not return in an investment. We risk falling into the trap of having breakthrough ideas that are incrementally executed. Innovation in the region is 33,7 % while at the level of 15 EU countries it stands at 50%. Despite this, pockets of scientific and entrepreneurial excellence thrive in our region”, said Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), Majlinda Bregu at the “Beautiful Minds Inspire Others” kick-off meeting on the Western Balkans Competitiveness and Innovation Accelerator, in Tirana today.

“That is why we are here today. Innovation requires thinking bigger. Rather than pigeonholing promising inventions into existing business units we have to find the robust innovation function for economic growth together. This is the very first time the outstanding World Economic Forum (WEF) is focusing on the Western Balkans. The decision was theirs, and I’m honoured RCC will be responsible for driving this trajectory in the region.  Accelerators on competitiveness and innovation have been successfully implemented by WEF to boost economic development in different big countries, but this is the first time it is being implemented at a regional level. Again I feel good this moment has come, being cautiously worried that for the region soon would have been too late to shift course away from lagging behind in innovation.”

The opening session, beside the RCC’s Secretary General Bregu, included the host’s Prime Minister, Edi Rama; Head of Regional Strategies for Europe and Eurasia, Member of the Executive Committee and Head of Regional Strategies-Europe and Eurasia at the World Economic Forum Martina Larkin; and was moderated by Eduart Shalsi, Minister of State for Promotion of Entrepreneurship of Albania.

“We are very pleased to be in Tirana today with the Ministers across the Western Balkans as well as CEOs from regional and international businesses to kick-off the World Economic Forum’s Competitiveness and Innovation Accelerator in the Western Balkans, which at the same time will be the first regional accelerator in the Forum’s Global Accelerator Network. The Strategic Dialogue on the Western Balkans is a key initiative of the Forum and we will continue working closely with the economies in the Western Balkans to support the future-oriented agenda that will enable economic growth, increase in competitiveness and readiness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the region,” said Martina Larkin.

Prime Minister Rama concluded that this will be a great challenge for everyone – a challenge we cannot face alone, separated from each other, and added that the more good examples of interaction we give to the EU, the more the EU will respect our efforts and be ready to partner and accept the region.

Today’s meeting brought together Ministers dealing with innovation and competitiveness from the region  - Anila Denaj, Minister of Economy and Finance of Albania; Stasa Kosarac, Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina;  Rozeta Hajdari, Minister of Economy, Employment, Trade, Industry, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Investments of Kosovo*; Nina Angelovska, Minister of Finance of North Macedonia; Mladen Sarcevic, Minister of Education, Science and Technological Development of Serbia; and Sasa Ivanovic, State Secretary for Science at the Ministry of Science of Montenegro; as well as representatives and World Economic Forum partners to agree on key priorities for the development of the Action Plan, formalize the establishment of the Leadership Group and the role of the Regional Coordinator, as well as to outline 2020 activities and milestones for the Accelerator.

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This is one of several Closing the Innovation Gap Accelerators facilitated by the World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society. It fulfils the mandate received by the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Western Balkan economies during the 2018 meeting of the Strategic Dialogue for the Western Balkans, hosted by the World Economic Forum, and is implemented in collaboration with the Regional Cooperation Council.

The World Economic Forum Accelerator model

Image: World Economic Forum

Data from the Global Competitiveness Report show that the region has progressed and reduced the gap with the European Union on many of the drivers of productivity and – with a projected GDP growth rate of 3.8% in 2020 – the Western Balkans remain one of the areas of Europe with the best growth prospects for the future. However, average income levels are still only a quarter of those of Germany and, at this pace, it will take more than six decades to catch-up with the European Union.

With a growing number of people leaving the region in search of better job prospects in Northern Europe, catching up might not be enough. The Leadership Group of the Competitiveness and Innovation Accelerator has discussed seven key action areas to drive systemic change in the region and lead its innovation ecosystem towards new and more sustainable technological innovations and socio-economic institutions.

1. Scale up existing success models piloted by national innovation funds and create a coordinated regional fund. With the support of the World Bank, innovation funds have been created in North Macedonia and Serbia, and one will soon be created in Montenegro. They have piloted and implemented successful programmes but they are still too fragmented to have the necessary scale that can crowd in additional investment, particularly from outside the region.

2. Co-design innovative forms of incentives to attract successful incubator and accelerator programmes from neighbouring countries and the rest of Europe. The Western Balkans have experienced a steady rise in the number of support programmes for start-ups, but there is a need to bring additional quality into the system. One potential solution would be to attract some of the successful players from abroad.

3. Transform the Western Balkans Digital Summit into the flagship event on innovation in the region with a truly connecting role for the ecosystem. Interaction and exchange play a key role in bringing the innovation ecosystem together to foster creativity and new business ventures. The Western Balkans Digital Summit has been a successful experience of collaboration among the six economies. It could focus more on this collaboration, or be expanded to other sectors of common specialization in the region, such as sustainable food production and agro-technologies.

4. Establish coalitions of businesses, governments and the financial sector to co-design innovative governance models for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), promote modern business practices, foster collaboration and support networks among different stakeholders. A large proportion of the SMEs and companies in the region remain fully “family-run”, potentially reflecting a lack of trust in society and the lower quality of contractual institutions and rule of law. This has implications for the capacity of companies to innovate and scale, and their propensity to increase their employee base. There are innovative approaches that can be taken to nudge these companies towards adopting modern and more sustainable practices, for example with the support of other segments of the private sector.

5. Facilitate cooperation and exchange of information with leading research institutions in the world in targeted research sectors. With the support of the Joint Research Centre of the European Union, most Western Balkan economies have identified priority areas for investment in research and innovation. In addition to investment, they will benefit from increased collaboration with international universities and research centres in these areas.

6. Establish a Western Balkans science and research fund tailored to the missions of the region. The mandate would be different from the innovation fund – more focused on immediate business applications – as it would focus on providing long-term, patient capital for targeted research missions that can create new and more sustainable pathways for growth.

7. Set-up dedicated programmes and co-design regular foresight exercises involving governments, the business sector, universities and research centres. The region faces intractable long-term challenges such as a rapidly ageing population, brain drain and adverse demographic trends. Governments and businesses can benefit from increased research, dialogue and exchange on the long-term scenarios for the region, scanning opportunities, threats and hypotheses of intervention.

Based on the discussion of the Leadership Group, the Regional Cooperation Council will prioritize a subset of these activities and create dedicated working groups with additional public and private sector stakeholders, as well as international partners and financing institutions. All the members of the Leadership Group expressed a strong commitment to this initiative and to the potential of the region and they are ready to champion one or more working groups. We invite readers to join this initiative if you want to shape a more innovative future for the Western Balkans.

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Geographical focus
  • Western Balkans
Scientifc field / Thematic focus
  • Cross-thematic/Interdisciplinary

Entry created by Admin on March 2, 2020
Modified on June 8, 2020