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Social innovation key to economic rise, Asian business leaders say

Publication Date : 22-12-2013


Asia can take the lead in social innovation, especially urbanisation, while intellectual-property enhancement will lift its countries out of the middle-income trap, business leaders said.

Top executives from Quantum Leaps, Lawson, General Electric and Schneider Electric were panellists at the Asia-Global Dialogue organised early this month by Fung Global Institute, a think-tank based in Hong Kong.

Some 500-plus regional and global business leaders debated the Asian agenda including finance, value chains, growth models and sustainability.

In a session on whether Asia can lead in innovation, Nobuyuki Idei, chief executive of Japanese business consultancy Quantum Leaps, said innovation should be based on social needs and consequent use of technologies. Here, China leads in innovation in urbanisation and Japan in how to cope with an ageing society.

"Shanghai, Tokyo, Dubai … are cities of tomorrow."

With smartphone technology making life exciting for everybody daily, there should be an operating system common to Asian cities, he said.

Takeshi Niinami, CEO of convenience-store chain Lawson, emphasised intellectual property in innovation as crucial to development. Japan had escaped the middle-income trap by way of innovation.

John Rice, vice chairman of GE, said his firm simply defined innovation as "going more with less and getting a better outcome". There would not be any value to innovation if it did not apply to the grass roots.

But GE regards innovation as transcending geography. Its 60,000 engineers cross national boundaries to collaborate on a global basis. Innovation is "a journey … but we don't know the destination".

Schneider CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire has "no doubt" that Asia can lead based on the number of patents registered and many firsts such as the Walkman and strong fundamentals with big populations in India and China, and how Japan has innovated as a scarce-resource nation.

Asia has strong encouragement in competition and also "creative destruction", said the chief of the France-based company. He also suggested the industrial model of "clustering", with America's Silicon Valley the prime example. Asian governments also have a role to play in creating a "smart city" for urbanisation.

All four speakers highlighted the importance of education in propelling innovation.

Niinami stressed freedom of speech as pivotal in creating an innovative environment. Innovation is enhanced by various viewpoints.

As an example, Japanese going to study in the United States have the freedom to work in a ripe environment.


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