On 26 September 2021, the first SCO Countries Parallel Forum Session was held within the framework of the annual ZGC Forum. Hosted every year since 2007 by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, Beijing municipal government, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and China Association for Science and Technology at the innovative heart of Beijing, Haidian district, ZGC Forum has gained a reputation as a key high-level gathering on tech & innovation in China.
The Parallel Session for SCO Countries under the topic “Open Innovation and Youth Cooperation” consisted of speeches, panels and case study presentations delivered by the frontline companies, young entrepreneurs and public figures from China, India, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The parallel session was attended by more than seven thousand people online and in person. It was jointly co-organized by ZGC Innoway and SCOLAR Network.
The Session was started by the member of the Standing Committee of Beijing Party Municipal Committee, Executive Vice Mayor Cui Shuqiang, who appraised Beijing becoming an international centre of innovation with a robust ecosystem for technology and talent exchange. Mr. Cui stressed the growing importance of the SCO region in China’s foreign cooperation strategy and wished the Session attendees a fruitful brainstorming, welcoming more entrepreneurs from SCO countries to come to Beijing.
SCO Secretary General Vladimir Norov welcomed participants via a video message, noting how principles encoded in the mission of ZGC Forum echo the values, carried by the Shanghai Spirit. Mr. Norov said SCO attaches great importance to creating conditions conducive for joint technological progress serving regional development. These efforts are directed towards the ultimate goal: raising the status of SCO countries in the global technology market by supporting the coordination between scientific, educational and industrial spheres in developing competitive high-tech products, increasing the share of innovative products in SCO states’ exports, and diversification away from the raw materials. The youth, Mr. Norov noted, occupies a central place on this agenda, which is why the ZGC Forum gives its attendees a wonderful opportunity to brainstorm actionable steps to nurture young talents together.
Ambassador of the Republic of Tajikistan to the People’s Republic of China, H.E. Saidzoda Zohir Ozod noted the inevitability of the progressive digitalization of all areas of life. “As countries undergo this digital transition, we should not lose sight of our priority – quality human development, supported by strong education and healthcare welfare institutions. This focus on human development has been at the core of Tajikistan’s Development Strategy for the upcoming decades. Pointing out the crucial role of tech parks and incubators like Innoway in this digital transition, Ambassador shared successful examples from Tajikistan, such as the newly-established State Business Incubator and Tech Park at the National University, which support both the scientific progress and the people behind it. ZGC Forum, H.E. remarked, offers a platform to learn from the achievements in sustainable innovation practices by colleagues from China and beyond, and share those from Tajikistan.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Mr. Muhammad Rumman Ahmad, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the SCO Secretariat, who spoke about the contributions of Pakistan to cross-border technological cooperation, particularly in the e-commerce and digital trade sectors, under the government strategy for Digital Pakistan. The Chinese example, Mr. Ahmad remarked, offers a blueprint for other SCO countries in relentless innovation and pursuit of progress, which can bring us a better future if pursued in synergy with the regional partners.
After the welcoming remarks, the Session entered into its first thematic part, dedicated to the discussions on “New opportunities for open innovation cooperation” by high-level guest speakers. Li Junjie, Standing Member of CPC Haidian District Committee and Executive Vice Chief of Haidian District People’s Government noted that, as a region hosting 45% of the world population and contributing 20% of the world GDP, SCO has enormous potential for future development, which should be driven by sustainable and collaborative innovation. As an example of a place with conditions conducive for such collaborative innovation, Mr. Li drew the audience’s attention to the Haidian district of Beijing, which has long been welcoming international talents for the joint pursuit of innovation, talent cultivation and betterment of society. Strategically located near the best universities in China, it attracts a large pool of bright Chinese and international minds and supports them in trailblazing technological horizons and developing ideas into sustainable businesses, thriving in Chinese and international markets.
Olimjon Alijonovich Tuychiev, Deputy Minister of the Innovative public of Uzbekistan and Director General of National Office for Innovation Implementation and Technology Transfer, shared his insights into the technological progress of Uzbekistan and the importance of strengthening cross-border collaborations via a video message. The Strategy of Innovative Development of Uzbekistan sets before the country an ambitious target of joining the top-50 leading innovative economies in the world, which is why the government pays great attention to nourishing its young talents through educational programs and startup competitions. Such initiatives are pursued in collaboration with commercial banks, research institutions and other stakeholders from Uzbekistan and abroad. International cooperation, noted Mr Tuychiev, is needed now more than ever in face of the pandemic-induced challenges. To fulfill this idea, Mr Tuychiev invited the guests to join the upcoming InnoWeek 2021, taking place this autumn in Tashkent.
Sergey Kanavskiy, Executive Secretary of the SCO Business Council, also shared his insights with the Forum guests via a video message, speaking about the SCO achievements in trade and economic cooperation, including the initiatives pursued with the support of the United Center for Business Cooperation under the SCO Business Council Secretariat. He expressed hope that joint forums like ZGC will help boost connections between the business communities across the region.
To respond to the calls of the guests for increased international cooperation, next came the announcement of “ZGC: Innovation Technology Initiative with SCO countries”, presented jointly by a cohort of incubators, accelerators, government agencies and other institutions supporting innovation across the SCO region.* The Initiative will help establish close cooperation between the parties as well as establish ZGC presence in SCO respective countries. The Initiative remains open to all institutions from 21 SCO countries interested in accelerating talent exchange, facilitating foreign market landing by innovative enterprises and developing favorable conditions for collaborative work in science and technology across the SCO countries.**
The first part of the session ended with a panel discussion on new models and practices in cross-border innovation. Moderated by Tim Luan, Innoway Director, the panel featured guests from successful corporations and institutions with international presence, reflecting on the lessons to be mutually drawn from the private sector breakthroughs and the factors which make for favourable innovation environments. Thus, Zheng Han, General Manager of Alibaba International Station Overseas GGS, stressed the importance of not only providing services, but creating an organic digital ecosystem that aims to create a more comfortable lifestyle for its end users, an objective Alibaba has been successfully pursuing in Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Timur Malikov, AIFC Representative in China, talked about the importance of the robust regulatory system supporting entrepreneurs, giving the example of Astana International Financial Center, a unique institution at the heart of Eurasia, operating as an independent jurisdiction under the English common law principles with its own arbitration center. AIFC, Mr. Malikov noted, is on a mission to develop Kazakhstan’s non-banking sector and provide favorable conditions for international financial companies via its Fintech Hub and Fintech Lab, turning Kazakhstan’s capital into a regional innovation hub. Albert Krisskoy, General Representative of PJSC “Sber” in Beijing, talked about the trajectory of technological innovation in Russia, sharing with the audience an example of Sber, which stands among the most innovative banks in Russia. Sber, which started as a bank, is now working to become a digital ecosystem providing its clients a comprehensive portfolio of services. The company already includes 60 incorporated companies in cloud computing, e-commerce and artificial intelligence. Finally, Mr. Niu Wenwen, Chairman of Dark Horse Technology Group, talked about the importance of the investment available for promising startups, which is a specialty of Dark Horse Technology Group. The publicly traded company operates a business innovation and entrepreneurship service platform, facilitates Chinese investments in startups and VC firms abroad, brings foreign startups into China and provides a talent pool for customers and business partners.
The second part of the Session turned to the theme of youth’s role in innovation. The discussion started with the case study presentations of innovative companies and institutions from various sectors, led by the young people across the SCO space.
Akbarkhon Aziz-ugli Sobirkhonov, Deputy Director General of National Office for Innovation Implementation and Technology Transfer under the Ministry of Innovative Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan, shared an account of inspiring achievements by the Office, including successful transfer for vaccine and cancer detection technologies, as well as promising efforts in developing a stevia sugar substitute for diabetics – all indicative of Uzbekistan government’s strong support for scientific collaborations in healthcare.
Azizjon Azimi from Tajikistan presented achievements of TajRupt, a nongovernmental organization with a mission of empowering the youth to upend Tajikistan’s development trajectory with the help of artificial intelligence technology. TajRupt brings this mission into reality through two youth hubs: Extracurricular Resource Center (ERC), and tajrupt.ai (TAI). Azizjon used the opportunity to call for the SCO youth to reach out for cooperation in propelling societal development across countries by tapping into AI capabilities.
Abdullo Kurbanov, Co-founder of Alif, introduced the backstory to the fintech company based on technology and noble values. Created in 2014 to solve the pressing social issues related to digital banking and financial services in Tajikistan, Alif grew from a small company with 4 people operating simple excel spreadsheets to become a large fintech player, the first partner of VISA in Central Asian region and an e-commerce, e-wallet and banking services provider. In 2019, Alif entered Uzbekistan’s market and is currently present in the country’s 14 regions.
Alexey Karpenko, Cofounder and CEO of JoinPRO, presented the business model of the company offering an e-marketplace for online tours and workshops by tour guides from all around the world, offering a pleasant and insightful learning experience and a chance to win prizes. Alexey expressed his belief in the promising future of e-tourism and stressed the potential that this sector offers not only for economic development, but also for deeper cross-cultural understanding.
The Session culminated in a panel discussion “Agora: Youth Talents Support in Innovation and Entrepreneurship”, hosted by Olim Alimov, Founder and CEO of Shanghe House Limited. The panel looked into the challenges and opportunities the SCO countries are facing in supporting technological entrepreneurship among the younger demographics through the experiences of 3 panelists. Evgeny Kosolapov, Permanent Representative of Skolkovo Innovation Center in China, shared his insights into the positive impact the pandemic has had on online meetings and deal-striking – encouraging a more flexible stakeholder mindset when approaching communications. Neil Kothari, Managing Director at FUGUMOBILE, spoke about the opportunities that developing countries have on their digitisation journeys, including the informed choice of what technologies and models to adopt to aid their unique paths to sustainable development. Finally, Sherif Abdelsamie, MBA Candidate at UIBE, shared his experience as a young person starting up his own business during the pandemic.
SCO Countries Parallel Forum Session under ZGC Forum showed the diversity of experiences and impressive achievements by the SCO countries’ bright minds and innovation institutions. The importance of providing a platform for these experiences to be shared could not have been clearer to the thousands of listeners, both online and offline, who tuned in to learn from and be inspired by the speakers and the ideas they voiced on the ZGC platform.
*“ZGC: Innovation Technology Initiative with SCO countries” signatories include Beijing Z-Innoway Technology Services Co. Ltd., Alibaba Global Digital Talent Network, SCOLAR Network, Skolkovo Innovation Center, Astana International Financial Centre, Middle East Venture Partners, National Office for Innovation Implementation and Technology Transfer under the Ministry of Innovative Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan National Business Innovation Center, IT Park Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology Ltd. (SLINTEC), and The Punjab Information Technology Board and Plan9 Tech Incubator.
** If you are interested in joining the Initiative, please reach out to [email protected]