UBC President's Speeches and Writings

Meeting challenges through innovation Ono, Santa Jeremy Mar 12, 2017

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	 1	Meeting	challenges	through	innovation	Santa	J.	Ono	March	12,	2017			Premier	Christy	Clark	asked	me	to	become	her	chief	advisor	of	the	British	Columbia	Innovation	Network	earlier	this	year.	Of	course,	I	said	yes.	But,	what	is	an	Innovation	Network?	Better	yet,	what	does	innovation	even	mean?		We	are	bombarded	with	that	word,	innovation.	We	invoke	this	buzz-term	so	often,	we	risk	stripping	it	of	any	real	substance.	But,	it	still	has	meaning	to	me.	In	fact,	I	have	thought	a	lot	about	innovation,	what	it	means	to	BC,	and	how	by	working	together	we	can	help	push	the	provincial	economy	to	new	heights.		So,	what	is	innovation?	Joseph	Schumpeter	argued	that	innovation	is	a	process	of	“creative	destruction,”	when	new	technologies	replace	old	ones.			When	the	OECD	ranks	countries	on	their	innovation	performance,	they	define	it	as	“the	implementation	of	a	new	or	significantly	improved	product	(good	or	service)	or	process,	a	new	marketing	method,	or	a	new	organizational	method	in	business	practices,	workplace	organization	or	external	relations.”			To	me,	innovation	is	a	never-ending	exchange	between	the	realities	of	today	and	the	potential	of	tomorrow.	Today,	we	are	confronted	with	the	enormous	challenge	of	a	changing	climate,	we	witness	friends	and	loved	ones	battle	cancer,	and	we	struggle	to	develop	policies	and	facilities	for	our	seniors.	Tomorrow	holds	the	promise	of	a	sustainable,	resilient	global	economy,	reduced	or	eliminated	cancer-related	mortality,	and	an	aging	population	living	independently	and	actively	engaged	in	society.			Innovation	lies	between	the	challenges	of	today	and	the	dreams	we	have	for	tomorrow.		I	know	that	British	Columbians	are	incredible	innovators.	An	app	that	finds	new	uses	for	surplus	food;	imaging	technologies	for	the	inside	of	oil	and	gas	wells;	personalized	cancer	treatments;	quantum	leaps	in	computing	power—these	are	just	a	few	examples	of	new	products	and	methods	devised	in	BC.			The	technology	sector	is	one	area	of	the	economy	you	can	readily	find	innovation—new	mobile	apps,	virtual	and	augmented	reality	technologies	and	applications,	the	internet	of	things,	fuel		 2	cells,	and	the	list	goes	on.	In	this	sector	alone,	nearly	10,000	companies	employ	more	than	100,000	people.			But	you	can	find	great	innovation	in	every	sector	of	our	economy	and	in	every	region	in	the	province,	whether	in	agriculture,	health	and	life	sciences,	natural	resources,	education,	tourism,	transportation,	or	the	film	industry.		As	president	of	UBC,	it	shouldn’t	come	as	a	surprise	that	I	think	talent	and	research	are	critical	drivers	of	innovation.	BC-based	researchers	are	tackling	society’s	grand	challenges	and	unlocking	some	of	the	greatest	mysteries	of	the	universe.	And	BC	universities,	colleges	and	polytechnics	attract	the	brightest	students	from	across	the	province	and	from	the	furthest	reaches	of	Canada	and	the	world.			To	be	sure,	BC	benefits	from	remarkable	post-secondary	institutions.	But	post-secondary	institutions	are	not	the	sole	drivers	of	innovation,	nor	the	sole	source	of	talent.			A	BC	Innovation	Network	includes	all	of	us:	the	berry	farmer	considering	new	planting	methods,	the	programmer	figuring	out	how	to	immerse	a	gamer	in	intergalactic	travel,	the	teacher	using	new	learning	tools	in	the	classroom,	or	the	genomics	researcher	at	the	lab	bench.			With	closer	ties	and	a	shared	purpose,	we	can	work	more	effectively	to	promote	stronger	links	between	the	BC	companies	and	organizations	that	depend	on	the	availability	of	talented	people,	and	the	colleges,	polytechnic	institutes	and	universities	responsible	for	training	and	educating	our	students.	We	can	build	clusters	of	expertise	across	this	network	focused	on	building	competitive	advantages	in	specific	research	and	industry	sectors,	and	around	tackling	difficult	societal	problems	facing	BC	and	communities	around	the	world.	These,	to	me,	are	the	key	parts	of	a	BC	Innovation	Network.		As	I	embark	on	my	role	as	the	premier’s	chief	advisor	of	the	BC	Innovation	Network	at	this	year’s	#BCTECH	Summit,	I	look	forward	to	hearing	from	fellow	British	Columbians.	What	I	hope	to	achieve	is	a	shared	commitment	to	learning	and	research,	collaboration,	research	clusters	that	combine	complementary	strengths	in	a	variety	of	fields,	and	partnerships	between	post-secondary	institutions,	governments	and	industry.		Professor	Santa	J.	Ono	is	the	president	and	vice-chancellor	of	the	University	of	British	Columbia	and	the	chief	advisor	of	the	British	Columbia	Innovation	Network.		

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