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Innovation Barometer

Setting the Innovation Bar: Saudi Arabia Rises Fastest in Global Poll

GE Hewar
January 20, 2021

Saudi Arabia’s lauded response to the COVID-19 pandemic is just one tangible result of the Kingdom’s embrace of innovation. Now comes another: new research from GE showing the Kingdom’s global reputation for innovation is on the rise.

During a year when the Kingdom ranked 13th globally by Forbes for the safety of its COVID-19 response and current numbers showing a vanishingly small positivity rate of 0.3%, the biennial GE Global Innovation Barometer finds that Saudi Arabia’s global reputation for innovation rose faster than any other in the 22-country study.

The hard work of putting infrastructure and resources in place to foster innovation in the Kingdom has resulted in more than one-third (35%) of global business executives polled saying the Kingdom has created an ‘innovation-conducive environment.’ That is a surge of 11% between the 2018 and 2020 surveys.

Guided by Saudi Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s innovation reputation is fueled by ongoing efforts to diversify the economy and the early success achieved on futuristic giga-developments such as NEOM, which includes the just announced The Line, an entirely automobile-free city of 1 million people. Other examples include projects to produce green hydrogen with renewable energy and a commitment to invest $20 billion in artificial intelligence.

The actions taken to promote innovation help enhance the Kingdom’s competitiveness, productivity and ability to create new industrial sectors.

The international view also was mirrored at home, with the survey of Saudi business executives reflecting a strong belief in the Kingdom’s ability to innovate on its own – a sentiment that has only gained in strength since the pandemic, from 58% in January 2020 to 62% in September 2020.

In this atmosphere, and in a COVID-19 world, it’s not surprising that almost 9 in 10 Saudi business executives (88%) said that innovation is more important now than ever. Three times as many Saudi companies increased innovation budgets than decreased them, according to the report.

Given the innovation in healthcare during the pandemic, including the use of a mobile app to allow residents to self-assess the likelihood they had contracted the virus, it’s no surprise that respondents saw healthcare as an innovation champion. Eighty-six percent of respondents said healthcare was setting a strong example of innovation for other sectors to follow, and 60% said the healthcare sector had made significant progress in relation to innovation over the past six months.

In the wake of the pandemic, the link between innovation and society was reinforced, with almost 9 in 10 (88%) of respondents saying it is more important than ever for innovation to focus on the challenges facing society and public health.

Showing alignment with the Saudi Vision 2030 focus on artificial intelligence (AI), 76% of respondents said using AI, automation and machine learning (ML) will be important to their company in a ‘post-COVID-19 world.’ Nearly nine in 10 (89%) said AI and ML will be important because of their benefit to the work experience, while 47% said they will facilitate further innovation, and 53% said AI and ML will improve the remote working experience for employees.

Other findings highlighted the importance of partnerships, with a majority of Saudi executives saying partnerships across countries (86%), industries (85%) and with government (84%) should be a priority for driving innovation.

Respondents said main institutional drivers of innovation included multinationals (23%) and government, which rose dramatically in the view of executives between 2018 and 2020, from 9% to 20%.