The GII in Minsk: Unlocking Belarus' Potential as the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe

Monday, January 27, 2020

In June 2019, WIPO’s Director General (DG) conducted a visit to Belarus and met its President and Prime Minister. It was agreed that WIPO would visit Belarus with the objective to improve the understanding of the Global Innovation Index (GII). Our mission delivered on this request. 

The case of Belarus is interesting:

  • For the last couple of years, Belarus has set up relevant innovation policies and initiatives, as well as a cross-ministerial task force on the GII.
  • The country harbours considerable potential in terms of its human capital, with a high share of graduates in the field of science and engineering, and software programmers.
  • This skill set, as well as the close links to the Russian Federation and other neighbouring countries with programming-savvy specialists, have enabled Belarus to scale up its reputation as a global programming hub, including in artificial intelligence and games.
  • A major driver of this phenomenon is the fact that recent innovation policies have spurred the development of an information technology (IT) High-Tech Park (HTP) in Minsk.
  • While many countries set-up high-tech clusters, most of these initiatives fail.  To the contrary, the HTP start-ups and some of its now medium-sized firms have established themselves as relevant international exporters of IT services, contributing up to 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product.  These firms are at the source of major software products, of which some have been acquired by leading Japanese or American IT companies.
  • The HTP is a good example for other countries to follow.  Rather than creating an artificial IT hub in a novel location, and then compelling existing IT firms to resettle there, firms can benefit from the advantages of the HTP – various tax exemption and reductions, facilitated work visas for foreigners, and other advantages – while registering but by continuing to operate from their original location. 
  • The HTP is also run professionally by entrepreneurs and administrators, with limited government intervention, and with strong linkages to foreign companies.
  • Finally, the HTP benefits from so-called “sandbox regulations”.  A regulatory framework was, for example, put in place that facilitates operations in cryptocurrencies and with block chain technology, a first of its kind.
  • The above measures has helped keep the software talent in Belarus so far rather than experiencing a brain drain of IT talents.

The aforementioned human capital and strategic advancements in IT stand out as strengths of Belarus in the GII.  Belarus rose from rank 88 in 2017 to 72 in 2019, with top results in IT services exports and mobile apps (see GII Belarus 2019 profile). 

Still, the country faces a number of challenges.

  • The country is aware of the need to invest more in research and development.
  • The IT cluster aside, the country could scale up inward and outward foreign direct investments, technology and knowledge flows. 
  • While latent potential exists in fields such as the machinery, wood and furniture industry, agri-food, and health industries, more incentives and actual forms of entrepreneurship and innovation activities could be considered for these sectors, in particular when they are run by state-owned enterprises.

These opportunities were discussed with a good cross-section of innovation policy actors during our visit, with potential ideas for the improved collection and analysis of data, as well as for the inception of new innovation and IP initiatives.

We look forward to working Belarus to furthering the country’s innovation performance.

Sacha Wunsch-Vincent is Co-Editor of the Global Innovation Index and Head of the Composite Indicator Research Section of the Economics and Statistics Research Division of the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

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