Innovation starts with changing mindsets in Oman

I focus today on the ‘magic solution’ that could take us into a prosperous future which many forward-thinkers and futurologists are trying hard to predict by gazing through a crystal ball. Forward-thinking institutions that come to mind include Harvard University and Shell Corporation, the latter having excelled over the past forty years.
The digital revolution has indeed spawned many new global achievements, but sustainable growth is just a cliché without paying concrete attention to the subject of innovation. In other words, in our context, taking only oil prices into consideration perpetuates our dependence on this commodity. The way out of this conundrum is to envision a ‘Post-Oil Era for Oman’.
The UNCTAD, UN Conference for Trade and Development, has put the record straight in their 2014 report, entitled “Reviewing Policies of Science, Technology and Innovation in Oman”.
Although brief, the report discussed all details, whether educational concerns, financial structure or issues of state administration. The report was comprehensive and analytical. It pointed to the strengths as well as weaknesses that could be improved. It also identified barriers hindering the growth of a stimulating environment for innovation. It is worth mentioning that the report ranked Oman 85th out of 140 countries in the Innovation Index of for competitiveness (2015-2016), although the Sultanate’s position has improved slightly to reach the 76th rank in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 competitiveness reports respectively.
According to the UNCTAD report, Oman does not spend more than 0.2 per cent out of its GDP on research and development.
Yet the average spending of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries on research and development is 2.5 per cent of their GDPs, with the private sector accounting for 80 per cent of this spend. No Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country comes any way close to this level, with the exception of Qatar (2.7 per cent).
Thus, GCC countries’ average spending on research and development is only 0.5 per cent of their combined GDP.
The UNCTAD report has outlined many solutions, one of which is a long-term executive plan alongside contingency proposals for tackling the current situation. For example, the UNCTAD report proposes the need for the Sultanate to have an ‘Intellectual Property Law’.
In this regard, although Oman is a pioneer in the field of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technology through investments of billions of US dollars in this area, the Sultanate cannot re-export this intellectual product to the international market as there is no “Intellectual Property Law” protecting its rights. Therefore, Oman will not be able to generate economic return from this product.
The report, more interestingly, concludes with a proposal for a “Magical Solution” which states: “First and foremost, Oman needs to change mindsets.” Moreover, the report concludes its recommendations stating: “The government needs to pay attention to three main approaches to achieve its goals (1) Communication: The report has discerned a gap in interactions between governmental institutions, between governmental institutions and the private sector, and between academicians and the private sector. (2) Inspiration: It is the task of public sector leaderships’ and interactive media, (3) Leadership: How to lead change? Is there a need for leadership skills, and not administrative ones?”
Are there any definite statistics showing the number of unimplemented studies prepared across all sectors in Oman during the past forty years? How many studies have been repeatedly initiated because of disparate viewpoints? Why have the recommendations made by these studies not considered for implementing based on scientific criteria?
Is it because there is a lack of confidence in these reports or awareness of the importance of evidence-based decision-making?
After all, our officials will continue to need to seek expert help or we risk losing faith in these specialists.
Why should we adopt an innovation policy as recommended by the UNCTAD report, while it contradicts our traditional common mindset? Does the current intellectual structure accept such a move or is it going to resist it? We have a sense of over-satisfaction, so why shall we hurry to pursue change (sense of urgency as defined in change leadership)?
We have various educational, tourism, logistics, and innovation strategies currently under preparation, but what is the underlying vision behind these strategies? Any strategy is a mechanism to achieve a certain vision. If such strategies are based on 2020 Vision, then the present and future realities have changed drastically. In other words, where would Oman like to be in Year 2020?
What is hindering the Sultanate’s growth as suggested by its declining competitiveness per international reports? Is the gap really wide between a generation enjoying accumulative experiences and an ambitious well-educated generation that needs to be blessed by the older generation?
How do we bridge this gap and end up with accelerated growth compared with the seventies, eighties, nineties and the new millennium? We need to pay attention to the fact we do not have the luxury of time anymore.

Ann al kindi
Twitter: @AnnAlkindi