Uzbekistan aims to foster innovation as a driver of economic growth and, join the top 50 countries in the Global Innovation Index by 2030 – an ambition that has acquired even greater importance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the launch of market economy reforms several years ago, the Government has started to revamp Uzbekistan’s scientific and innovative capacity. In September 2018, it adopted the Strategy for Innovative Development for 2019-2021, designed to improve research excellence, strengthen the links between education, science, and industry, and increase public and private investments in innovation, research and development (R&D), and modern technologies. A major outcome has been that gross expenditures in R&D are expected to quadruple from 0.2 in 2018 to 0.8 percent of GDP in 2021.
“Innovation is critical for economic growth, but also for addressing major development challenges, such as those associated with economic inclusion and social resilience, which are central to a post-pandemic recovery. The new project supported by the Bank will help the Government develop a market-oriented National Innovation System. It will stimulate collaboration between state agencies, public research organizations, and the private sector in the area of R&D, and commercialization of scientific and innovative products and services,” said Marco Mantovanelli, World Bank Country Manager for Uzbekistan.
The project will improve the capacity of public research organizations (PROs) to achieve international standards of research quality and enable the commercialization of research results. Senior and junior researchers from local universities or research institutes will be able to get grants to implement up to 50 R&D sub-projects, including joint ones with international researchers and the private sector.
Research proposals can focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, low-carbon technologies, and COVID-19-related topics. It is planned that up to 50 papers will be published in internationally peer-reviewed journals, based on research funded by the project.
In addition, up to 30 grants will be allocated among local firms to finance the launch of their knowledge-based startups and invest in R&D of new or existing innovative products and services, which they can sell locally or export. For instance, firms can apply for financing to develop medical, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology products and services.
An International Expert Board, consisting of distinguished foreign scientists, experienced venture capitalists, and former policymakers in the areas of science, technology, and innovations, will make decisions on financing schemes and selection of research proposals based on clear and objective criteria reflecting their scientific merit, innovative potential, social, and/or economic relevance.
The project will also invest in the modernization of infrastructure and laboratories of selected Research Institutes that will be identified by the Ministry of Innovative Development (MID) after a full assessment of all candidate institutions.
In addition, the project funds will be used to develop a comprehensive legal framework regulating the issues of R&D commercialization and innovation in Uzbekistan and implement respective institutional reforms. Among them will be the establishment of a Technology Transfer Unit (TTU) under the MID that will be assisting local researchers and firms to fulfill the commercialization potential of their scientific and innovative products and services.
The World Bank supports Uzbekistan through technical assistance and the financing of 24 projects totaling over $4.45 billion. They provide support in critical areas such as macroeconomic reforms, agriculture, health, education, water supply and sanitation, energy, transport, social protection, urban and rural development, as well as mitigation of health, economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.