Jigmi Wangdi

Saul Singer, co-author of the best-selling book, Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, highlighted key points that can help Bhutan change its innovation ecosystem.

Singer said that every country’s innovation system is built around its own culture, circumstances, location and its size because these aspects are a country’s strengths from where innovations come.

The smallness of Bhutan is one key aspect, Singer said. He related the size of Israel to Bhutan and highlighted how this is an advantage.

For smaller countries like Bhutan, Singer said it is important to be different. Bhutan, he said, has been able to do this in terms of global leadership and with the policy of measuring happiness as a metric of success.

“This is an example of a brilliant innovation,” Singer said.

Is technology innovation?

Most would say it is but many aspects of innovations are not technological.

Singer gave an example of how Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook as a business module by using the already existing servers.

Gyalsung project

Singer shared his views on the national service through the Gyalsung Project. He said that from the term ‘military service’, it is the service aspect that is more important. He said that the national service can give the challenges, mission orientation, the ability to work in groups, the ability to communicate, and the skills people need in this century.

This, he said, would help create a sense of solidarity with the country and with the community. The national service, he said, is the best way to unify the country, give people a sense of purpose beyond themselves, expose them to difficult problems and how they can solve the problems together, and give them the feeling of having big responsibilities at a young age.

Singer said that these characteristics are critical not just for entrepreneurship but also for life.

Adoptive innovation

Singer distinguished two types of innovation—innovation called ‘something from nothing’, which basically defines start-ups, and adoptive innovation which is more important than creative innovation.

The countries that advance the most are not those that work on creative innovation but are those that are best at adopting innovations. He said that creative innovation might not lead to adoptive innovation but adoptive innovation leads to creative innovation.

For example, if Bhutan becomes the global leader in applying digital healthcare to rural areas in the country, this could attract entrepreneurs in digital health because Bhutan would be the place to be in this sector.

“The better you are at adoptive innovation, not only will your country advance but your people will also do better,” Singer said.

Singer highlighted some advantages for Bhutan. First, Bhutan being a small country makes it easier to adopt innovative ideas at the national level. Second, Bhutan can skip legacy systems, outdated computing software or hardware still in use.

Singer said that the fact Bhutan may not have to build on a huge legacy internet infrastructure could be an advantage because Bhutan would be using state-of-the-art technology directly.

He said the innovation ecosystem in Bhutan would have to be effective because most young entrepreneurs tend to leave the country.

Saul Singer was the keynote speaker at DHI’s InnoTech-Talks on December 15 as part of the 115 National Day build-up programme in Thimphu.