The COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent economic downturn, and the far-reaching negative effects of the war in Ukraine, have created additional development challenges for Central Asian economies. This includes the countries of the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA),including six UNECE member States: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Together with international trade and investment, innovation is crucial to find solutions to the economic challenges and to make progress on attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The business sector – the agents of change and innovation – plays a central role in this context. Hence, policies to support innovative entrepreneurship are crucial for the innovation-led transformation of SPECA economies.
Innovative high-growth enterprises, a small share of small and medium-sized firms with an outsized role in value and job creation, could be drivers of this transformation, creating new market niches and generating positive spill overs for the whole economy. UNECE has developed a dedicated handbook to support SPECA policymakers in providing tailored support to this subset of firms. The Handbook “Supporting innovative high-growth enterprises in the SPECA sub-region” draws on a similar work in the Eastern Europe and South Caucasus region and will be published in Q4 2022.
Fostering innovative entrepreneurship also means supporting the emergence of new ideas through education at the level of schools and universities through integration of dedicated entrepreneurship courses. On 19 September 2022, UNECE brought together policymakers from SPECA countries to discuss the ways in which the project-based learning approach could become an enabler of entrepreneurial skills and culture to ensure that innovation takes place in a systematic fashion across the economy.
Finally, a well-developed innovation support ecosystem is essential for innovative ideas to come to fruition with business incubators and start-up accelerators playing a key role. In light of the SPECA countries’ recent efforts to develop these institutions, UNECE has been supporting the governments of the sub-region in building the capacities of the staff of business incubators and accelerators to effectively perform their role, while also ensuring the exchange of good practices and fostering sub-regional cooperation in this area. To this end, in July 2022, UNECE launched a pilot SPECA Network of Business Incubators and Accelerators for Sustainable Development. The Network serves as a platform for dialogue and exchange on issues, challenges and solutions, as well as training on best practices related to innovative entrepreneurship support through business incubators and accelerators in the SPECA sub-region. A first such training was held on 27 – 29 September.
Going forward, UNECE will continue to support SPECA countries in their efforts to make innovation a driver of sustainable economic development but also of green and circular transition – a topic in focus of the discussions at the WTO Public Forum 2022and the upcoming 14th session of the UNECE`s Team of Specialists on Innovation and Competitiveness Policies.
UNECE has been working to strengthen SPECA countries’ capacities to design, implement and monitor innovation policies while fostering sub-regional cooperation on innovation for sustainable development. The assistance has taken form of development of guidelines on policy tools to support innovative entrepreneurship, facilitating dialogue on the topic and providing dedicated trainings to SPECA policymakers.
UNECE is also supporting SPECA countries in their efforts to harness international trade for sustainable development, for example through support to the WTO accession of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, in the implementation of the SPECA Principles of Sustainable Trade, and of the SPECA Trade Facilitation Strategy.
The 2022 SPECA Economic Forum entitled “Greener and Safer Future” will take place from 16 to 17 November 2022 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, followed by the 17th session of the SPECA Governing Council on 18 November 2022.