The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent economic slowdown, as well as the widespread negative repercussions of the regional conflicts, such as disruptions in international trade and investments, have made it increasingly difficult for the Eastern Europe and South Caucasus (EESC) countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine) to make progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Innovation is crucial to finding solutions to sustainable development challenges as it helps to diversify and upgrade economies. To ensure innovation happens systematically across the sub-region, UNECE has been working to increase the capacity of the EESC countries to plan, implement, and monitor innovation policies, as well as to promote sub-regional cooperation on innovation for sustainable development.
In the framework of achieving these goals, and with the generous support of Sweden, UNECE developed the first full-fledged Sub-regional Innovation Policy Outlook (IPO) iteration in 2020 that provides a comprehensive assessment of innovation policy governance in the sub-region along 40 indicators. UNECE plans to develop a second full-fledged IPO iteration in 2024 to examine the developments made and help measure the progress across the sub-region.
To keep up the momentum created between both full-fledged iterations, UNECE is currently developing an Interim Innovation Policy Outlook (IIPO) publication, the main findings and recommendations of which were discussed at the Seventh Meeting of IPO National Focal Points on 2 November. The IIPO looks at sub-regional trends and developments over the past two years, examining two topics identified as central to the circular economy transition and green and digital transformations by partner governments in EESC countries: (i) how to strengthen science-business linkages (SBL); and (ii) how to enhance the use of innovation-enhancing procurement (IEP) to spur innovation-led growth. The IIPO is set to be published in early 2023.
The Seventh Meeting of IPO National Focal Points brought together partner governments, international experts and the UNECE Secretariat. At the meeting experts noted that further strengthening of SBL has immense potential to spur innovative activity towards long-term sustainable development in EESC economies. For this, countries should broaden their policies beyond technology transfer and commercialising the results of public R&D. For example, they will need to adapt R&D activities to the needs of local innovators and facilitate interaction between domestic and foreign firms. In turn, IEP can become a key tool to drive demand for innovation at national and sub-national levels as public procurement budgets in the sub-region frequently exceed 10 per cent of GDP. To unleash the potential of IEP in the sub-region, countries should improve their legal frameworks and identify the missing capacities to be able to translate needs into procurement tenders.
Going forward, UNECE will continue to support EESC countries in their efforts to make innovation a driver of the circular economy transition and green and digital transformations. UNECE intends to develop the second full-fledged IPO in 2024, allowing EESC countries to evaluate and monitor their progress since the first IPO iteration, learning from what worked and what did not, in order to set priorities for future strategies and initiatives. UNECE advisory work in this area is complemented by other workstreams, including the national Innovation for Sustainable Development Reviews conducted for Armenia (2014; forthcoming), Georgia (2020), the Republic of Moldova (2021), and Ukraine (2013; forthcoming) and targeted capacity building activities.
These activities will also feed into the upcoming 14th UNECE session of the Team of Specialists on Innovation and Competitiveness Policies (ToS-ICP), which will bring together policy makers and leading international experts to explore the power of transformative innovation and launch the UN-ECE Transformative Innovation Network (ETIN).