The focus on innovation as an instrument to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is rapidly gaining momentum across the UNECE region. At the same time, many of the processes surrounding transformative innovation are still unexplored.
To take stock of its true transformative potential, it is essential to further explore the dynamics related to innovation as an accelerator for systemic change. To that end, UNECE and the German Federal Agency for Disruptive innovation (SPRIND) implemented the project “Reinforcing the innovation ecosystem in the UNECE region to promote innovation and digital technologies for sustainable development and for the circular economy transition”.
Funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, the project is in line with the UNECE’s 69th Commission session on circular economy and the forthcoming 70th session on digital and green transformations for sustainable development. A centerpiece of this project is the UN-ECE Transformative Innovation Network (ETIN), which was formally launched at the 14th session of the UNECE Team of Specialists on Innovation and Competitiveness Policies.
The network provides a platform to facilitate peer learning through the exchange of ideas and experiences. Its explicit ambition is to accelerate transformative innovation in UNECE member states in support of the more effective implementation of the SDGs. These efforts are increasingly timely, given the recent crises that have accentuated the need to build stronger resilience while also maintaining and further enhancing inclusive development.
The opportunities of transformative innovation are potentially endless, with new technologies altering the very premises of economic activities. For example, the ongoing digital revolution not only makes some products and services more affordable and accessible to a wider public, but also leads to new business models, such as the emerging platform economy. Another example can be seen in the energy sector: Innovations in diverse fields could cumulatively transform energy production and consumption in a way that makes clean energy economically viable and accessible for all.
Yet, supporting transformative innovation in practice is difficult because it often defies established ways of working. Transformative innovation requires a coordination of efforts in a desired direction. This means agreeing on the direction of policies, bringing on board all stakeholders, creating a coherent policy mix across portfolios, while avoiding inefficient lock-in to particular technology solutions. It also requires supporting rapid and broad-based diffusion and take-up because of the urgency of the sustainability challenge. As a result, transformative innovation also requires new approaches to governance itself.
In the coming months, ETIN will host a series of activities, bringing together policymakers, innovation agencies, think tanks, entrepreneurs, and experts from the UNECE region, to jointly develop tools that enable and promote transformative innovation in support of sustainable development and the circular economy transition.