Western Balkans Regional Competitiveness Initiative
The Western Balkan Regional Competitiveness Initiative (RCI) was a three-year project implemented by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which aimed at strengthening medium to long-term competitiveness in the Western Balkans by helping economies improve the development of human capital and boost innovation. Innovation and skills are two crucial areas which can help Western Balkan countries support knowledge-based economic development and accelerate integration with the European . The RCI was designed to involve a broad range of stakeholders from each economy, using pilot projects to deliver concrete outcomes and build capacity among policy makers to ensure the long-term sustainability of projects.
• Albanian Investment Development Agency (AIDA)
• Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
• Ministry of Civil Affairs (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
• Ministry of Economy (Croatia)
• Ministry of Science, Education and Sports (Croatia)
• Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Crafts (Croatia)
• Ministry of Regional Development and EU funds (Croatia)
• Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (Kosovo )
• Ministry of Economy (FYR Macedonia)
• Ministry of Education and Science (FYR Macedonia)
• Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs (FYR Macedonia)
• Ministry of Economy (Montenegro)
• Ministry of Economy (Serbia)
• Transfer know-how in public administrations for the design, implementation and evaluation of policies and policy instruments in the areas of innovation and human capital development
• Support inter-ministerial coordination in the design and implementation of innovation and human capital development policies
• Instigate a mechanism for regional reviews of best practice and sharing of experience in human capital development and innovation policies
• Representatives of the private sector
• Staff of universities and research institutions
1. Providing local stakeholders with support in the area most suited to their needs: Each Western Balkan government selected its pilot project in line with its own priorities in the areas of innovation and human capital development. The selection process involved local stakeholders from public administration, industry and research. Three governments (Croatia, Kosovo and FYR Macedonia) chose to develop comprehensive, whole-of-government approaches to innovation policy in the form of a National Innovation Strategy. The other four decided to focus on the design and implementation of specific policy tools to enhance innovation (a voucher scheme in Montenegro, a business plan competition in Albania, a competence technology centre in Serbia and triple helix partnerships in Bosnia and Herzegovina).
2. Promoting an evidence-based approach to policy making based on in-depth assessments of local innovation systems: Each pilot project started with an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of beneficiaries’ innovation systems. These assessments were based on reviews of reports and strategic government documents, focus groups as well as in-depth surveys of businesses and research institutions. These assessments helped identify key obstacles to innovation and tailor policy recommendations and tools to the specific needs of each beneficiary. In addition, reviews were conducted to study good policy practices in OECD and EU countries and a number of study trips were organised to help beneficiaries learn from successful policy experiences in other countries.
3. Building capacity and encouraging local ownership through cooperation with key stakeholders: Mixed teams of OECD experts and representatives from national governments were established to implement the pilot projects. Close coordination with governments through workshops, seminars and focus groups aimed to transfer know-how on the design and implementation of pilot projects to local authorities which would then be able to replicate them on a larger scale. In addition, each project involved continuous consultations with a broad range of stakeholders including the relevant ministries and government agencies, businesses and representatives of the research and academic communities.
4. Helping beneficiaries learn from each other’s experiences: In parallel to the seven pilot projects, two regional working groups were established in the areas of innovation and human capital development with a view to supporting the exchange of good policy practices and lessons from the implementation of pilot projects. Another objective of these regional working groups was to identify potential synergies and opportunities for regional collaboration to enhance human capital development and innovation across the Western Balkans.
5. Disseminating the results of the project through an active communication campaign: First, the RCI sought to mobilise stakeholders and attract participants within each beneficiary economy through a wide variety of channels including chambers of commerce, innovation forums, websites and interviews in leading newspapers in the region. The RCI also aimed to disseminate the lessons from the implementation of the various pilot projects to a broader audience. Indeed, a series of ‘policy handbooks’ were published to summarise the lessons from the pilot projects and to guide policy makers in other countries in the development of similar policy tools by outlining the practical steps to design and implement them. These handbooks are available to all stakeholders free of charge on the following website (http://www.oecd.org/investmentcompact/regionalcompetitivenessinitiativerci.htm).
The RCI strengthened the capacity of Western Balkan governments to design and implement effective innovation policies and helped accelerate reforms in the areas of innovation and human capital development through the following achievements:
• In-depth analysis and policy recommendations tailored to each beneficiary on human capital development and innovation
• Beneficiaries’ familiarisation with new innovation and human capital development policy tools and acquisition of know-how and competences in policy design and implementation
• Enhanced inter-ministerial coordination and more systematic consultations with relevant stakeholders including businesses, researchers and representatives of higher education institutions
• Implementation of new policy tools and policies in beneficiary economies.
Thanks to the support of the OECD, each pilot project led to concrete results:
• Albania organised its first nation-wide business plan competition involving 18 teams of young entrepreneurs. Applicants were provided with training on business plan development, presentation skills and ‘elevator’ pitches. The OECD supported the winners of the business plan competition with market research for their products and services. The involvement of officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Energy throughout the project also ensured the transfer of know-how. As a result, a second and more ambitious business plan competition is planned for November 2013 in Tirana. Winners of this second competition will receive support from local financial institutions.
• Bosnia and Herzegovina introduced triple helix partnerships as a new tool to support innovation. The project created three concrete partnerships between government, research and business which led to the introduction of a new product on the market: an Omega 3-enriched egg. The project involved officials from both the State and entity levels, making it possible for them to “learn by doing”. In addition, the project created a network of 250 entrepreneurs and researchers in the agro-food sector.
• Croatia assessed for the first time its overall innovation system and developed its National Innovation Strategy for 2013-2020 in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders. The assessment of the innovation system and the development of the strategy involved over 600 representatives of the business and research communities in various forms, from completing surveys to participation in focus groups and workshops. Four ministries were actively involved in the drafting process and benefited from a transfer of good practices from the OECD. The implementation of the strategy will be supported by European Structural funds.
• Kosovo carried out the first assessment of its innovation system and developed a comprehensive Innovation Strategy. Over 150 companies and researchers participated in survey work and focus groups to define the strengths and weaknesses of Kosovo’s innovation system. The Innovation Strategy will provide the framework for closer cooperation between industry and research and lead to more targeted support to raise the business community’s ability to innovate. More generally, the project helped build capacity in the public administration to design innovation policies.
• FYR Macedonia carried out the first comprehensive assessment of its innovation system. The assessment involved the contribution of over 500 businesses through surveys and focus groups. Based on the results of this assessment, FYR Macedonia developed and adopted its first Innovation Strategy and Action Plan. A new Innovation Law was passed and the implementation of the Strategy, supported by a $20M loan from the World Bank, is being led by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of economic affairs. The 20-member inter-ministerial team involved in the project ultimately gained experience in the design of innovation policies.
• Montenegro launched its first SME voucher scheme. The design of the voucher scheme was based on a survey assessing the needs of 150 companies. As a result of the pilot voucher scheme, 16 partnerships were established between Montenegrin SMEs and local business service providers. The pilot scheme was positively evaluated. The pilot scheme built capacity in the SME Directorate to design and implement future SME support schemes. The implementation of another voucher scheme was included in the 2013 Action Plan of the SME Strategy.
• A feasibility study and an implementation plan were developed for the establishment of a competence technology centre in Serbia. The project involved over 300 members of the Serbian business and research community through a combination of surveys, focus groups and workshops. The Ministry of Economy is using the results of the pilot project to support the biomedicine sector. The project strengthened the capacity of public officials to design new innovation-support measures such as technology brokers and innovation vouchers.
Regional working groups on human capital development and innovation were established and met on a regular basis to exchange good policy practices in the Western Balkans. The working groups provided an opportunity for all the beneficiaries to report on the progress and outcomes of their capacity building pilot projects. The exchange of lessons learnt is leading the beneficiaries to implement new innovation measures, for example, triple helix partnerships piloted in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be implemented in Albania, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, and Kosovo. The human capital development and innovation working groups will evolve into regional sector-specific bodies to advance the South East Europe 2020 agenda in three sectors: agri-business, tourism and the automotive industry.
The primary oversight body of the RCI project – the RCI Steering Committee – has been transformed into a standing working group of the South East Europe Investment Committee (SEEIC) called the SEEIC Working Group on Competitiveness (WGC). The WGC’s activities will focus on improving the economic competitiveness of the Western Balkans by supporting policy reforms and initiatives aimed at enhancing the business environment for SMEs and entrepreneurs. The WGC will also develop policy responses at the sector level to strengthen the region’s value chains. The WGC will be the primary body that will support the Competitiveness Dimension of the SEE 2020 Strategy’s Sustainable Growth Pillar.