Title: Innovation is Happiness by Nada Amin
Author: ندى أمين
Date: 06-06-2015, 02:47 AM
03:47 AM Jun, 06 2015
My Library at SudaneseOnline
What is the relationship between innovation and happiness? In other words, do innovations make us happy? Or do we need to be happy in order to be innovative? And what is the reasoning behind the conclusion of seminal international research and studies saying that the most leading and innovative countries are the ones where citizens are the happiest around the globe? These dimensions show that the issue of happiness touches fundamental domains of our daily lives that cannot be measured in purely economic terms.
Certainly everyone wants to live a longer life and in a healthy, well developed, and happy surrounding, but there are many determinants that may lead to this end. Living in a given country with all its settings of human development, social justice, public freedoms, and political and economic stance affect the citizens of that country in terms of life expectancy, per capita income, health and mental wellness, negatively or positively. This assortment of factors was put into consideration when producing the 2015 World Happiness Report that included 158 countries. The third annual edition of the report was published last Thursday, April 23 by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and will be widely disseminated to influence public policies.
The Happiest are the Most Innovative
The Swiss are the happiest nation in the world, closely followed by the citizens of Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada, according to the unveiled global ranking of happiness. Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia round out the top 10, making countries in Western Europe seven of the top 10 happiest countries. The United States of America was ranked as the 15th on the list of happiness, despite its international weight as the World’s superpower!
The citizens of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman have presided the list as the happiest Arab nations. Emirates occupied the first rank regionally and the 20th rank globally, superior to the British, who came after them in the ranking, while Omani ranked as the second Arab state and the 22nd globally. Contrary to what may be expected by many Sudanese, Sudan was ranked 118 in the global happiness index preceding neighboring countries like Egypt, which ranked 135 and Kenya which ranked 125. Honestly, I don’t think this is a sheer reflection of the chronic pervasive disappointment amongst the majority of Sudanese who are embroiled in economic recession, political quagmire, and the state’s oppression of public freedoms.
All nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Benin and Togo, along with Syria and Afghanistan rated as the least satisfied with their lives. This classification carries with it no wonder as these countries are scrambling with their own political turmoil and economic depression that resulted in knocking down their thermometer of happiness.
What struck me though when I read the report that Chinese’ happiness has not fared well again this year as China slipping in the happiness index with a rank of 84 up from 93 in the previous survey of 2013. This is certainly inferior compared with China's exceptional economic boom as the second strongest economy in the world that entailed with it a notable rising in per capita income. This could be attributed chiefly to China's record on human rights, citizenship, and freedom of the press and expression that don’t match by all accounts with its growing economic record.
The UAE who topped the list as the happiest Arab nation and occupied the 20th rank in the universal happiness index made it imperative for me to link again happiness with innovation. The country has a track record in innovative endeavors ensuing from the solid commitment of the UAE leadership for making happiness a national policy goal. Most recently, I watched on Dubai One TV channel broadcasting of the Government Summit which was attended by 4,000 representatives of 93 countries in which the government proclaimed 2015, the year of innovation in the country to realize the ambitious goals of the “National Strategy for Innovation” aiming to place Emirates amongst the most innovative countries in the world. Also, my attention was directed toward the creation of the position of Executive of Innovation in all government institutions for fostering innovation in civil service.
Generally, the report resonates well with all the recent development calls urging governments and policy makers to shift away from a focus on achieving macro-economic growth toward investing in human development and the well-being of their citizens. Recognizing happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world, the United Nations has sought recently, in 2011, to promote the concept of what is known as the "happiness economics" to encourage member countries to measure and use the happiness of their people as indicator to guide public policies.
Innovation: The Magic Key to Donors’ Financing
Recently, innovation has become central to the way development organizations work. Donors increasingly stress innovation as a key condition for funding.
Historically, the word innovation first emerged in the business world as a master tool for continuity and competition. This implies from innovation in the delivery of services and goods manufacturing to innovation in marketing, advertisement, and branding. However, the spillover of innovation from the business world to the development world needs us to pause and think about the pros and cons of the heavy introduction of the innovation term into the development landscape. Now days, innovation has become the magic key to donors’ financing and number one criteria for evaluation of the winning proposals.
Despite the plenty gains of the development interventions worldwide, but in parallel the path to development has been marinated in many shortcomings, failures and inadequacies. Therefore, there was a need to envisage differently new ways and innovative solutions to achieve the desired development outcomes and this is how innovation has emerged as the most catchy and buzzword word in the development arena.
On the other side, the London-based newspaper of the Guardian had a different view cited in its article of "Is Innovation Essential in the Development Work”. The author argued that innovation is a fashionable term that has entered the development vocabulary in so many ways that it speaks to everything and nothing to the extent that many donors will fail to offer a clear definition of how they understand the term. The article also said that innovation might be risky and needs treating with caution in the context of development as it may result in unfavorable ramifications on vulnerable people who are usually the central target of any development work. Why experiment when we could be getting down to important, useful routine work using proven successful methods? The author, David Lewis, concluded.
While I would partially agree with this thinking but at the same time I don’t think that innovation is necessarily disruptive in nature. I echo the proposal to remain cautious when relating innovation to development interventions, but this doesn’t abolish the need to experiment with new ideas and explore better practices of doing things. As a development practitioner, I think innovation simply means doing things faster, better and differently in a way that adds value and has a concrete impact on local contexts. While it is true that some development interventions were proven successful in the past, but the reality is that development challenges are not dormant and they change and evolve over time. Accordingly, in many instances, there is a need to add innovation to an existing solution to adapt and better respond to a new context. For instance, in Sudan and across the developing world, donors are still supporting conventional income generating activities for women that are merely centered around sewing, bakery, and poultry activities. I think by experience those activities are proven not be successful in lifting the economic status of disadvantageous women given their many restraints of the supply-demand equation, cost effectiveness, marketing limitations, and maintenance issues. Here I would definitely open the doors warmly for innovation to come!
Could We Follow the Footsteps of the “Innovation Union”?
It is not a surprise for Sudan to be among the 50 least happy countries in the global happiness index, in contrast, and as mentioned earlier I consider this as a not deserved score given the current complex circumstances in the country. Generally, as Sudanese we aren’t very inclined to be innovative and have a sway toward the conventional and routine work rather than the individual initiative. I may attribute this to a swathe of impediments that may be discussed in a different topic but for now I would categorize them in the indoctrinated social setting, stagnation of our educational curriculum, and lack of the propitious climate that induces the sense of creativity and innovation. This is particularly why we need to embrace a self-critique approach to ourselves in order to spur efforts for the wellbeing of our country and its people.
This reminds me of the recent step undertaken by members of the European Union (EU) in establishing what they called “The Innovation Union” in response to what described as the situation of 'innovation emergency' they are currently facing! The Innovation Union stated that although the EU market is the largest in the world, it remains fragmented and not innovation-friendly enough. Therefore, to remain competitive in the global market they stated that they need to imminently increase public spending on new research and studies on innovation to catch up with countries that are heading fast in this direction!
To conclude, there is no single country on earth that is free from difficulties and challenges but what distinguishes a country from another is the will to do better, to catalyze, and to innovate by seeking solutions to scrap away blockades heading toward the path of development and luminous future.
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