Open innovation: bridging development challenges with sustainable solutions

By Tran Huong Giang, Head of Experimentation and Tran Thi Bao Anh, Head of Exploration, Accelerator Lab, UNDP in Viet Nam

May 8, 2024
UNDP in Viet Nam

Focusing on impact on society, environment, and governance, the open innovation platform integrates supporting industries with business innovation. It connects corporate challenges with solutions from innovators, start-ups, and researchers in Viet Nam. Aligned with the Innovation and Start up Development Strategy of NATEC (2022-2025), co-formulated by NATEC and UNDP, the platform also assists governments in creating an enabling environment for open innovation in the country. 

Why open innovation?

Open innovation is a strategic approach that allows organizations to collaborate with external partners, such as customers, suppliers, universities, startups, or even competitors, to leverage additional knowledge, skills, creativity, and resources for problem-solving. This collaborative model helps organizations reduce innovation costs and risks, deliver greater value to customers and stakeholders, and strengthen their reputation and brand image.  By embracing open innovation, organizations can tap into global talent and novel ideas, accelerating the innovation process and increasing the chances of success. Furthermore, open innovation generates new revenue streams by licensing or selling intellectual property to their partners. 

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in general and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals in particular, different stakeholders such as the business community, academia, and policymakers in the ecosystem can leverage the Open Innovation strategy to optimize resources from tech experts in tackling emerging challenges. ESG goals are aimed at making a positive impact on the environment and society. Many corporates and tech experts are joining forces to pursue ESG goals, using digital technologies and innovations to address sustainability challenges and opportunities. They can accelerate innovation through working beyond the boundaries of individual companies. They can use digital technologies, such as blockchain, AI, and analytics to foster standardization, enhance the transparency, accuracy, and reliability of their ESG data and disclosures. 

How can policy makers promote inbound or outbound open innovation in Viet Nam.

Inbound innovation is about accessing external expertise and information, while outbound innovation involves sharing and commercializing internal ideas. For example, companies can solicit new ideas from innovative startups and researchers (inbound innovation) or gather feedback from customers on new products (outbound innovation) to enhance product development.

In Viet Nam, we observe a progressive trend of open innovation and proactive actions from the government. The government has been playing a vital role in anticipating the challenges, strategizing ecosystem development, and connecting key drivers such as startups, university tech-transfer offices and business service providers. As the key public facilitator of the innovation environment, the National Agency for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Development (NATEC) has developed a series of activities to engage different actors in the innovation ecosystem in Viet Nam and beyond. 

The newly launched open innovation platform OIC Viet Nam helps enterprises share their business challenges with a pool of thousands of tech solvers ready to offer their existing innovative solutions or work with these businesses to develop new ones. Akin to solving business challenges, sustainable development challenges also require problem owners and tech solvers to work together towards a common goal. By marrying together, the resources of problem owners and the ingenuity of solution developers, we create a winning recipe. 

In July and October 2023, in consultation with UNDP in Viet Nam and other stakeholders, a series of open innovation workshops was conducted, starting first with refining business challenges into clear impactful statement to be launched on the platform. Tech innovators then met with problem owners to ask questions and gained a more in-depth understanding of the challenges. These early interactions also laid the foundation for future collaboration between tech innovators and big corporations.

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At the business match making session in open innovation day, two companies shared their challenges of developing eco-friendly stationery and minimizing the environmental impact of residential buildings respectively. The adoption of ESG considerations has become part of many firms’ business decisions and strategies. These companies are eager to invest in innovative solutions to position themselves as pioneers in the ESG sphere, as well as to remain competitive in response to greater demands from consumers for environmental and social responsibility.  Tech solvers are in turn more aware of developing solutions to deliver greater positive impact, taking us one step closer to achieving sustainable development goals. As a result, an Open Innovation Hub was also established on 26 October 2023 to facilitate the exchange of know-how and solutions to tackle challenges from businesses.

UNDP in Viet Nam

To reiterate the point that to achieve sustainable development goals, we need to tap into and learn from the open innovation model where local solutions can tackle pressing government challenges. Establishing the Open Innovation Hub with a series of matchmaking activities between challenge holders and tech solvers is a good start to promote innovation culture of the country. This approach facilitates collaboration and knowledge-sharing, fostering the development of effective solutions tailored to local needs and priorities. By embracing open innovation, we can accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals--________________________________________
Grateful to my colleagues Nguyen Viet Lan, Do Le Thu Ngoc for their inputs. In our next edition, we will update you how policy makers promote open innovation in Viet Nam.