Innovation Strategy

DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.53289/TWCK7132

Bringing everyone along on the journey

Priya Guha

Priya Guha is a Venture Partner at Merian Ventures, investing in women-led innovation. She is a member of the Innovate UK Council, a Non-Executive Director at the Digital Catapult and an Adjunct Faculty member at the Ashridge Hult Business School. She was previously General Manager for RocketSpace, and before that a career diplomat. As well as being on a number of Boards, Priya was named in the 2020 Top 50 Most Influential Women in Technology for the third year running.

Summary

  • We need everyone to participate in the innovation journey
  • Lack of inclusivity is a major threat to the success of the Strategy
  • Innovation should mean something to everyone in the UK, not just the usual interested individuals
  • Education is fundamental, not just for the younger generation but for those already in today‚Äôs workplace
  • The Covid pandemic has highlighted the challenge of social exclusion.

The primary risk I see with the Innovation Strategy is around the theme of inclusivity. I believe that if we do not get this right, the strategy is pointless. Maria Ressa was the one woman to win a Nobel Prize in 2021 – in her case, the Peace Prize. That is indicative of the history of Nobel Prizes with only 6.2% of Nobel laureates being women. I recently attended an event where a senior technologist in a large British business said to a public audience that he felt he was not listened to, compared to his “ethnically impoverished colleagues”. We are in a time where just 1% of professors in research establishments are black. Currently, black colleagues in the research and innovation ecosystem are saying they feel the system is institutionally racist. There is a problem there because that means there are not sufficient role models to change the debate and so change the ecosystem.

Now, the ecosystem needs to change because we need everybody to participate in this innovation journey. Even though the numbers are gradually edging upwards, less than 7% of girls took computer science at A level in 2021. That has been hailed as an improvement and while I am happy to celebrate that achievement, it is just not good enough. If we want everybody to be at the table where the algorithms that will define our future are designed, the current situation is not good enough.

Education is also fundamental to innovation. In a 2017 report for Dell Technologies, the Institute for the Future arrived at the conclusion that 85% of the jobs people will have in 2030 are not yet known. So what should children be learning now? Well, perhaps innovation skills: the classic volume The Innovator’s DNA suggests that these include associating, questioning, observing, networking and experimenting. Yet those are not the skills in today’s curriculum

Lifelong learning

How to educate a generation of talent that can bring everyone along with them on that journey of innovation? That, of course, is just the younger people of today, but there is a whole workforce that needs to come on that journey. So, this is about lifelong skills and lifelong learning. People are not being equipped with the skills to take part in this exciting innovation journey. 

Mind the gap: Less than 7% of girls took A level computer science in 2021

 

One of the really shocking statistics from the Covid pandemic was that 1.5 million households did not have internet access during the pandemic. Some 20% of children did not have access to a device to learn at home. There is a major challenge here about social inclusion: making sure that everybody is brought along that journey, irrespective of the background they are from and the experience they have had, as well as the opportunities the family has had previously.

A photo of Maria Ressa at a press conference held on October 9, 2021, following her Nobel Peace Prize win.

Another huge risk is that, while people in certain circles understand a subject like the innovation strategy, it needs to mean something to everybody in the UK if it is to be successful. And that is where we need people who are passionate about this issue and are passionate about making the UK’s future one that is driven by innovation.

That is why it is so important that Innovate UK and other organisations lead the charge to translate this world in which we live and breathe into a world in which everyone can participate.

There are huge risks here: the risk of not having enough representation at the table; the risk of a workforce that is not equipped to deliver all these really exciting things.

It should never be forgotten that there is also the risk that this whole discussion becomes an echo chamber where people who are invested in this subject talk about innovation but in a conversation that does not resonate with the broader world.

However, in the spirit of turning risks into opportunities, this is a strategy that can actually bring people along with it, one that can mean something to everybody in the UK. If we seize the opportunity to ensure that everybody is at that table – in the design, the development and the scaling of innovation – we will not only be able to seize the economic advantage that innovation will bring, but actually make the societal changes that will define the future.