Swiss Ambassador Alain Gaschen Provides Lessons on Innovation, Embracing Risks for Philippines, Filipinos to Learn From

“Some do come here to the Philippines. Just recently, we met a spin-off from ETH Zurich that is involved in the development of an app enabling smartphone owners here in the Philippines to build step by step affordable disaster-resistant homes.”

— Swiss Ambassador Alain Gaschen

By EDD K. USMAN | Twitter: @edd1819 | Instagram: @bluestar0910 Facebook: SDN — Scitech and Digital News

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GRAND HYATT MANILA, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City, Philippines (SDN) — There are many lessons tacked in the speech of Switzerland’s top diplomat in the Philippines — Ambassador Alain Gaschen.

The Swiss ambassador to the Philippines. (Photo: SDN — Scitech and Digital News)

Lessons on innovation — and doing it well and good and productive as the Swiss do — which the Philippines and Filipinos surely can learn from; if the government and the citizens are open to new learnings, open to taking the cue, open to taking risks, and open to admitting and not shy about accepting that others are doing it much, much better. Perhaps, it’s not an embarrassment to learn from others’ best practices.

Lessons like not afraid to take risks, and not scared to fail. Of not allowing fear to stop you. And more.

Like what the Swiss are doing with much success. Much economic success.

Proof: In the Global Innovation Index (GII), Switzerland has been on top of the list for 12 consecutive years! That’s from among 131 countries surveyed annually by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The Philippines? In the 2021 GII survey, the latest, Filipinos’ ranking slid to 51st spot from 50th in 2020. In 2019, in the 54th ranking. At least the ranking of the country improved, but then slid. Something wrong, something missing, or lacking the drive because of not enough support from the State? What?

Yes, what is it that the Swiss are doing good which the Philippines is not. Perhaps, it is time to look to the West.

Switzerland, a landlocked member country of the European Union (EU) only has a population of 8,760,101 people as of 2022.

The Philippines, on the other hand, is bursting to the seams with a 2022 population of 113,052,966, says the online portal.

So, what differentiates a small country such as a better achieving Federal State of Switzerland with its economic success from a big country (in terms of population and area) such as a less achieving Republic of the Philippines?

Let’s dive into the Swiss diplomat’s speech, then, a copy of which was shared to SDN — Scitech and Digital News. He delivered it at the opening on Tuesday of the Swiss Innovation Exhibit organized by the Embassy of Switzerland and the Swiss Cultural Fund (SCF).

Related story: Switzerland Celebrates 65 Years of Ties with Philippines, Holds Innovation Exhibit

Eleven of the EU country’s top-achieving companies have booths in the exhibit, showcasing innovative technologies that offer solutions helping make peoples’ lives better across the globe, including in the Philippines. They are Buhler, DDC Land, Holcim, Nestle, Novateur, Novartis, Roche, SGS, SATECO, SIKA, and TetraPak.

What are their secrets, what pushed them beyond the boundaries of mediocrity, to the Mount Everest of the GII for 12 long straight years?

Gaschen has one simple truth to tell.

“In Switzerland, we very much integrated innovation into our DNA: It is for the 12th consecutive year that Switzerland has now been awarded as most innovative country worldwide by the United Nations Global Innovation Index.”

The Swiss diplomat described his country’s topping the GII ranking without interruption as “a key benchmark” for a country that’s small and without a sea on its boundaries, not even having “significant resources” from which the citizens can draw from.

Secretary Alfred Pascua of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) makes a gesture to stress a point. (Photo: SDN — Scitech and Digital News)

So, apparently there’s a secret weapon for the innovations coming out from the Swiss companies, which produce not only the globally loved Swiss chocolates but new technologies the world has already adopted and is using, or consuming.

“We have nothing to refer to than our people, skills and abilities. We do not have any oil or gas, and neither is there a significant internal market big enough to support our economy on its own like, for example, the US, China, or the European Union,” Gaschen reveals in his speech at the event.

“This made us understand that in order to be successful as a country, we need to be consistently on top in education and innovation.”

He said he is convinced that his country’s principal reason in achieving economic success can be traced to “our commitment to create a conducive environment in which innovation and creative thinking are encouraged, not only by the private sector actors but also by the State, be it through the tax system or via our universities and other education institutions.”

Gaschen went on to mention ETH Zurich and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), two of Switzerland’s top academic institutions, which comprise the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology.

ETH Zurich is sixth place in the QS World University Rankings® 2021 and EPFL at 14th in 2022. ETH Zurich ranks higher than the United Kingdom’s University of Cambridge and sole university in continental Europe to be in the top 10.

Counting ETH Zurich and EPFL, he pointed out that Switzerland boosts of some of the world’s “most well-known universities.”

Aside from that, the envoy added, the country of the Swiss people relies strongly on her “dual vocational training system where practical experience and academic knowledge are combined” for symbiotic benefit.

He emphasized the Swiss educational institutions are not confined in an ivory tower, saying there’s a deeply internalized collaboration between the universities and the private sector in how education and research are regarded.

“These collaborations produce positive outcomes for both sides by developing new technologies and bringing them to the market in the form of new products and services,” the ambassador says.

Innovation: looks easy on the outside, difficult once you get in

Though education is the foundation of Switzerland’s success in innovation, there are other factors, he pointed out. This includes a required “political and legal framework that fosters innovation.”

Going over these other ingredients showed they are the rule of law, a stringent protection of intellectual property, a reasonable tax system and regulations favoring new ventures such as blockchains, artificial intelligence (AI) or drones, and business startups which are flourishing because of the attention they get from government. In 2021 alone, Switzerland had 50,000 new startups created in various domains.

And some of these startups have reached other countries as well.

“Some do come here to the Philippines. Just recently, we met a spin-off from ETH Zurich that is involved in the development of an app enabling smartphone owners here in the Philippines to build step by step affordable disaster-resistant homes,” notes Gaschen.

“Finally, yet importantly, innovation is about the mindset. Albert Einstein once said: ‘Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.’

“Innovation is about thinking out of the box and about taking risks and learning from failure. This approach needs to be adapted by companies, but also by the public sector.”

And to expand it, by the Philippines and Filipinos who want success like the Swiss. Easier said than done, though.

Gaschen said the relations between the Philippines and his country “are close to my heart”, especially for the two parties’ economic relations that are highly beneficial to both.

“And here, innovation comes into play: Only by pushing boundaries, by introducing newer, cleaner and more efficient technologies we can truly advance.”

He likened innovation to professional sports, looks easy looking in, but complicated and difficult once you get into it. “It requires hard work, focus, persistence and consistency.”

The Swiss Innovation Exhibit ends on Thursday. By that time many invited key experts and government officials shall have been able to share their knowledge and experiences in innovation.

Topics included research and development (R&D), landscape of innovation, the potential of public-private partnerships, and sustainability.

“I hope these exchanges will provide some food for thought and will trigger even more discussions about innovation here in the Philippines,” the Swiss diplomat says. (✓)

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