Edward Lorenz, researcher at GREDEG, Invited Expert at United Nations Workshop

Professor Edward Lorenz is a distinguished researcher in economics attached to GREDEG (Research Group in Economics, Law and Management, UCA, CNRS). He contributed to a workshop on the Sustainable Development Goals organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) of the United Nations held in Korea between the 29th of November and the 1st of December. Lorenz discussed the role of new and disruptive technologies on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The results of the workshop will be used in planning the STI Forum to be held in June 2018 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.


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UCA news has organized this interview with Professor Lorenz to know more about inclusive innovation and his views on the future of industry.

How would you define inclusive innovation?


The basic definition of an innovation is the implementation by an enterprise of a new or significantly improved product, service or process. In less developed nations most of the innovation activity of firms takes the form of the adoption of modification of technologies and products already available on international markets. Researchers sometimes refer to these forms of innovation as duplicative or creative imitation.
The notion of inclusive innovation refers to two dimensions: inclusiveness in terms of results and inclusiveness in terms of the innovation process.
With respect to results or benefits, an inclusive innovation is one that meets the needs of a population that is marginalized or impoverished. For example, an innovation may be developed with the objective of solving problems linked to the low level of infrastructural development in a low income nation. In the area of energy supply an inclusive innovation might consist in developing renewable energy technologies (solar or wind) adapted to the needs of micro or small enterprises that are not connected to the energy grid.
An example in health care services is use of mobile money platforms to increase access for the poor to health insurance. In Kenya, for example, a number of providers rely on Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile phone-based payment platform to enable clients to pay for healthcare and receive other complimentary health services.
Inclusiveness in terms of the process involves widening the number of stakeholders that are implicated. In other words, instead of implementing the innovation process in a ‘top-down’ manner the objective is to draw on the ideas and potential creativity of the community for which the innovation is designed. For example, policies designed to support competency building amongst clusters of micro and small firms (MSEs) can be put in place, including the provision of professional training, technical assistance and access to finance. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the vast majority of enterprises fit in the micro and small category and they offer important opportunities for employment for Africa’s burgeoning youth. Inclusive industrial policies by definition need to address the needs of these firms.

What are France’s strengths in making the transition to the industry of the future ?


There is a tendency to compare France with Germany, its main commercial trading partner, where there has been a more rapid take-up of certain new technologies including industrial robotics. On a world scale, however, France is in a relatively good position. Even if the adoption of robotics has been somewhat slower than in Germany or in such countries as Japan or South Korea, France is well placed in terms of its research and technological capacity in a number of key sectors (aeronautics, pharmaceutics, food processing, (see the article in preparation on the BOOST project dedicated to biocontrol) etc.)
A major problem is that the rapid adoption of these new technologies tends to increase the technological gap with less developed nations. For example, in 2015 the number of industrial robot shipments was over 30,000 to Japan and to South Korea, while for Africa as a while the number of shipments was slightly under 350.
Another problem posed by recent technical change is tends to increase labor market polarization. A variety of studies for the US and for several European nations have shown that the adoption of new computer-based technologies including robotics tends to eliminate mid-level jobs to the benefit of more highly skilled jobs and, paradoxically, relatively low skilled jobs at the bottom of the pay scale. This polarization process can contribute to increased income inequalities in society.
Succeed in making the transition to the industry of the future without increasing income inequalities.
France with it system of social protection and progressive taxation for reducing income inequalities is relatively well-placed in this respect in relation to counties such as the United States with relatively weak systems of social protection. It is important that the reach of the system of social protection is not weakened through pressures for fiscal reform or reduced government expenditures.


What role can the educational and research system play in this transition?


Technical change continuously leads to a demand for new skills and competences. Universities have an important role to play in this process, notably through providing training in the skills and knowledge needed to implement these new technologies at the workplace.
In France, the considerable development of work-study programs at the undergraduate and masters levels over the last 10 to 15 years is a positive trend and it has contributed making university education more connected to industry and more adapted to employers’ skills needs.
Another point regarding inclusiveness is that the national education system needs to provide opportunities for skills development for all including continuous adult vocational training that providing for the recognition of skills acquired during one’s professional career. In France today the share of the adult population aged 25 to 34 years that has attained educational degree at the third-level is 44%. In Germany the figure is 30.5%. This implies that to be inclusive the educational system has to provide opportunities for skills development for the majority of the population lacking a third-level education.
Universities also need to engage in cooperation around technology development with a variety of local and national or international actors. The contribution of universities to achieving the transition to the industry of the future depends on establishing various forms of research cooperation with industrial enterprises. University researchers that engage in cooperative projects with industry can contribute directly to the transfer of knowledge. In France, the forms of cooperation that are established through the ‘pôles de competitivité’ involving universities researchers, industrialists and local administrations are a good example of how collaborative research can contribute to the industry of the future.

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Edward Lorenz works closely with GLOBELICS, a worldwide community of scholars working on innovation and competence-building in the context of economic development. His work has been financed by various national and international organizations including the Directorate Research of the European Commission, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and DARES of the Ministry of Labour, France. His current projects include work on the revision of the PIAAC survey on adult skills for the OECD and a project financed by the Africalics network on competency building and innovation in micro and small enterprises in Africa. He has provided expert advice to a number of international organizations including the Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry at the OECD, the Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. In 2017 he was an invited speaker at the Regional meeting on “Innovations for infrastructure development and sustainable industrialization” organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) of the United Nations and on the same topic he participated in an expert panel organized by UNIDO at the Forum on Science Technology and Innovation held at the UN headquarters in New York.