Agirre Center innovation
2014/09/22 12:25:00 GMT+2
UK’s innovation foundation NESTA has included the Basque Country as a study case in their report on highly innovative countries, "When small is beautiful".

The main goal of this report is to extract lessons on innovation based on successful cases that could serve as a model for UK’s smaller regions. Regarding the Basque Country, the report points out its transformation in the last few decades, quoting the director of Agirre Lehendakaria Center Juan Jose Ibarretxe and mentioning SPRI, Innobasque or Mondragon Corporation as examples.

TRANSCRIPTION OF THE REPORT’S BASQUE COUNTRY SECTION:

“WHEN JUAN JOSÉ IBARRETXE, PRESIDENT OF THE BASQUE COUNTRY REGION OF SPAIN FROM 1999 TO 2009, EXPLAINS HIS REGION’S REMARKABLE PROGRESS IN THE LAST 20 YEARS, HE SUMS UP THE SPANISH REGION’S APPROACH AS “ALL TOGETHER, OR NOT AT ALL”. A SENSE OF SHARED IDENTITY, DISTINCT FROM THE REST OF SPAIN AND BASED ON HISTORY, CULTURE, AND LANGUAGE HAS DRIVEN THE REGION TO SEEK THE ABILITY TO CONTROL ITS OWN DESTINY.

The 1979 Statute of Autonomy for the Basque Country came just as a deep economic crisis hit the region in the early 1980s. A sluggish global economy plus a heavy reliance on declining industry had led to negative GDP growth and a ten point percentage jump in unemployment.The newly elected Basque leaders set in train a long–term restructuring of their economy. By 2008 the Basque Country had the highest income per capita in Spain at 33 per cent above the Spanish average, and 36 per cent above the average EU 27 level.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s successive governments prioritised industrial competitiveness through investment in research and technology and worked with private partners to develop a cluster–based industrial policy. Built on traditional technology transfer institutions set up in 1982, the Basque Country’s Technology Centres have evolved into powerful and diversified networks comprising basic and applied research centres. Between 1997 and 2006 they generated $1 billion in revenue. As the cluster programme developed, a strong focus was placed on promoting firm cooperation in R&D.

The Agency for the Promotion and Restructuring of Industry, SPRI, was founded in 1981 and played a significant role in the economic turnaround of the region, 20 helping businesses to survive and grow. One of its main objectives has been to promote exports and internationalisation of the region’s industries. Internationalisation programmes increased the number of Basque firms with facilities abroad. Since the mid 1990s, Basque exports to foreign countries grew faster than to the rest of Spain. In addition, the Basque Government set up the Ikerbasque Foundation to recruit international senior researchers work in the region’s research institutions.

Innobasque, created in 2007, is part of the region’s broader approach to innovation. Capitalising on the Basque Country’s sense of cohesiveness, Innobasque focuses on encouraging collaboration through networking. It brings together diverse groups to take forward agreed key areas of action for the region, including better delivery of public services. It has a powerful Board of Directors from leading public and private organisations who can take forward change.

True to their sense of egalitarianism, the Basque Country has some interesting examples of balancing economic growth with social balance. Mondragon is a Basque Country corporation and a federation of worker cooperatives with a shared vision and values of cooperation, participation, social responsibility and innovation. It is certainly profitable: it is the seventh largest business group in Spain and makes up 3.6 per cent of the Basque Country GDP. It also has a strong focus on innovation. The University of Mondragon provides training and skills development for the cooperative workers and separate R&D departments drive technological innovation. It has invested €140 million in R&D and participated in over 70 individual projects, with separate tech centres and R&D units that have a combined budget of €54 million in 2009″.

COMMON FEATURES AND LESSONS FOR INNOVATION:

Despite the differences between the studied countries, Nesta extracts five features that all of them have in common and could serve as models in the field of innovation, here is a brief summary of them:

1. GETTING ‘DOWNSTREAM’ INNOVATION RIGHT: The first notable feature of these innovative small economies is how good they are at turning good ideas and early–stage innovations into commercial successes.

2. OPENNESS: Openness to the world also seems to matter for small countries: No country has a monopoly on good ideas or on innovations, and it seems that the small countries that do best at innovation are also good at adopting the good ideas of others.

3. INNOVATION PERVADING THE WHOLE OF GOVERNMENT: The governments of our small innovative nations do not just support innovation directly, with research funding and favourable tax regimes. They also promote it through their wider activities.

4. EFFECTIVE, ENTREPRENEURIAL INNOVATION INSTITUTIONS: Small innovative countries also tend to possess well regarded innovation institutions, which tend to be part of, or related to the state but somewhat removed from central political control.

5. A SENSE OF NATIONAL MISSION: The final characteristic of innovation in small nations is perhaps the hardest to evidence, but one that is widely attested by people in the countries themselves: a sense of national mission.

Regarding the Basque Country, the report states that along with Singapore, both have grown and prospered despite of the tense relationships with Francoist Spain and Malaysia respectively, finally adding: “in relationship between culture (…) and innovation is of course hard to prove. (…) Indeed, some would argue that this sort ofCULTURE MATTERS MORE THAN MANY OTHER FACTORS. At any rate, the presence of national myths of innovation is something that these smll innovative countries seem to have in common”.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR AGIRRE LEHENDAKARIA CENTER:

This is precisely the main thesis of ALC, supported by the recent Nesta report: the keys to understand the success of the Basque Transformation under extreme difficulties are related to a complex system of tangible elements (self-government, economic agreement, public-private partnership, social economy, clusters…), but the differential element underlying all of this would be the intangible element of Basque Culture (according to UNESCO's definition, "a set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, which encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs”).