Monday, November 8, 2010

Innovation Philanthropy: Mobilizing Turkey's International Brain Power

Posted by Dr. Banu Onaral

Since 1950’s, Turkey, along with other developing countries focused on educating scientists, engineers and business professionals to spark economic growth and unleash ‘innovation ecosystems’. It was a miscalculation. Turkey created a ‘brain power’ for which its economic system was unprepared. This prompted a ‘brain drain,’ exporting its best and brightest to the West, which offered opportunities to match their skills.

This has been changing in recent years. With an estimated 30 000 to 40 000 of its scholars, scientists, engineers, medical doctors and high ranking professionals and executives living outside its borders, Turkey is starting to realize the power and the importance of its own international ‘brain network.’ Organizations such as Turkish Philanthropy Funds have started to build these networks by building bridges between those abroad and their compatriots at home. They are helping accelerate Turkey's social and economic development through transnational ‘innovation partnerships.’ It is a phenomenon that has come be called ‘innovation philanthropy.’

Also referred to as "philanthropy to build social capital," innovation philanthropy is centered on knowledge, science and technology-based social and economic development. It is founded on mutual respect and understanding gained through shared mission and equal partnership between the philanthropists and the private, public, academic and civil society sectors.

Innovation philanthropists are those who donate professional expertise, contribute strategies, share their experiences and material resources to enable their local counterparts to take charge in science and technology based initiatives. It’s ‘philanthropy through solutions,’ focusing on addressing the unmet needs of a developing society. Innovation philanthropy does not impose, rather partners to identify, to assess, to connect, to leverage the existing resources that may not yet be integrated and fills the gaps.

INOVIZ: Izmir for Health Initiative is an example of innovation philanthropy. Since March 2009, INOVIZ has mobilized human and physical resources in life sciences, biomedical technology and healthcare services so that Izmir, Turkey’s 3rdlargest city, can brand itself as a health center. The initiative has facilitated more than ten meetings, workshops and conferences and culminated in the Global INOVIZ Conference, held on May 24-25, 2010 with regional, national and international participants. Turkish ex-pats are showing interest and Izmir’s goal of becoming a health center is progressing.

INOVIZ demonstrates the importance of platforms. Change cannot happen without space and room to grow. INOVIZ provides that space, convenes the community and builds trust among sectors of the society. The trust deficit is ultimately the most challenging for the developing world. INOVIZ is a regional innovation model that helps turn the country’s ‘brain drain’ into a ‘brain gain.’ Transnational ‘innovation philanthropists’ are currently contributing to similar initiatives in Ankara, Eskisehir, Istanbul as well as other cities, each emerging from the realities of the locality to address their unmet needs as they become part of the innovation economy. This is how ‘innovation ecosystems will ultimately thrive.

Dr. Banu Onaral is H. H. Sun Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA. She holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and BSEE and MSEE in Electrical Engineering from Bogazici University. Dr. Onaral’s translational research efforts for rapid commercialization of biomedical technologies developed Translational Research in Biomedical Technologies program, which brings together academic technology developers with entrepreneurs, regional economic development agencies, as well as local legal, business, and investment communities. Dr. Onaral serves on the Engineering Advisory Board of National Science Foundation's and on the board of trustees of Sabanci University. Read more.

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