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With the right kind of support, innovative, high-growth enterprises could be essential drivers of sustainable development in Central Asia


A small sub-set of small- and medium-sized enterprises – innovative, high-growth enterprises (IHGEs) – plays an outsize role in innovation and structural transformation as they spearhead experimentation with new ideas to create value, address challenges, and reduce transaction costs. A critical mass of thriving IHGEs could serve to try out ideas to discover the ones that will be essential to diversify production and to create more and better jobs and opportunities for Central Asia’s young, growing population. IHGEs can also play an instrumental role in the transition to a more circular economy, experimenting with new ways to create value based on sustainable patterns of consumption and production.  

IHGEs face challenges and have needs that sometimes differ from those of the private sector in general. These include the high risks inherent in any kind of innovation; vulnerability to regulatory costs, barriers and uncertainties; and the specific needs related to the rapid change from a small start-up to scaling up to become a medium-sized or large firm. As a result, many standard SME support instruments often fail to play a catalytic role – or to make the difference between an entrepreneur trying out an innovative idea and deciding not to do so.  

Understanding IHGEs and how to support them has risen high on national policy agendas in Central Asia. On 15 and 17 February 2022, UNECE organised online training sessions for policy makers from the region. Building on similar work in the region of Eastern Europe and South Caucasus, a dedicated webinar in December 2021 and the upcoming Handbook on “Supporting Innovative High Growth Firms in the SPECA subregion” (to be published in 2022), the sessions reviewed a range of topics, tools, and examples from the region (e.g. Kazakhstan) as well as best practices from around the globe (e.g.  Singapore, Scotland, and beyond). Participants from business incubators, accelerators and similar innovation support institutions in the region noted the importance of regular policy dialogue and practical exchange of experiences among the countries of Central Asia, alongside international expertise. The United Nations Special Programme for Economies of Central Asia (UN SPECA) could be leveraged in this regard as a platform for policy exchange, including through initiatives to support the implementation of the SPECA Innovation Strategy for Sustainable Development and its Action Plan.  

To find out more about the online training sessions, please click here

Regions: SPECA

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