The 10 most innovative countries in the world

Cornell University, the World Intellectual Property Organisation and graduate school INSEAD have released their findings on the world’s most innovative nations


Switzerland tops the list for the fourth consecutive year for its investments in innovation infrastructure and information and communication technologies (ICT), as well as its highly sophisticated business environment. These are qualities shared by all the top 10 economies, with a defining trait being their “ecosystem” approach to innovation – all aspects of society are boosted by innovation policies.

This year, the gap between top performing middle-income economies (such as China and Malaysia) and high-income economies began to close, and the top 10 features a new entry – Luxembourg, which came in 12th last year. The “human factor” of innovation was a central focus, which examines education and the development of talent. In this category, Israel, which placed 15th, is expected to climb quickly, as great investments in education and a younger generation with significant interest in subjects such as engineering and IT were identified.

The report used 81 indicators to rank 143 economies around the world – we count down the top ten:

1. Switzerland

Every year, 70 percent of Swiss youths augment their employability by entering one of many apprenticeship programmes, offered by global corporations including Credit Suisse and Swisscom. This is just one reason why Swiss unemployment stands at just three percent; among the lowest in the world.

2. UK

Extensive groundbreaking medical research is carried out by the National Health Service every year, and since the 2011 launch of government initiative ‘East London Tech City’, the capital’s Silicon Roundabout area has been booming. Home to the UK’s most exciting new startups, its global profile continues to grow.

3. Sweden

Sweden is one of Europe’s top research and development (R&D) spenders, with a focus on medicine and bioscience, technology and climate. A multitude of organisations and institutions work to encourage young people’s interest in technology and entrepreneurship, such as Finn Upp and Snilleblixtarna.

4. Finland

The unorthodox education system in Finland has garnered global attention in recent years for all the right reasons. An emphasis on play within education, shorter schooldays, high quality teaching staff and just one standardised test place Finnish schools among the best in the world.

5. Netherlands

Government priorities in the Netherlands include energy, agri-food, logistics and life sciences. The nation also ranked particularly highly in patent filing and e-participation. A government fiscal incentive scheme subsidises R&D wages and provides extra tax allowances for startups.

6. US

The US has the world’s most sophisticated system for financing radical ideas, and its R&D budget continues to increase. Among a mass of other initiatives, President Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation focuses on education, energy and entrepreneurship.

7. Singapore

Due to a lack of land and natural resources, innovation is crucial to Singapore’s economic growth. This is reflected in plans for its capital to become a “living laboratory” for urban solutions, where new ideas for cities of the future will be trialled.

8. Denmark

Business startup costs in Denmark are the lowest in the world, and ICT comprises five percent of total goods exports. A large proportion of Danish initiatives are crowdsourced from the general public, coordinated by organisations such as Spredbudskabet.

9. Luxembourg

A new entry to the top 10, Luxembourg performed well in the business sophistication, innovation output and creative output sectors. R&D is still a relatively new concept in this nation, making its high ranking on the index all the more impressive.

10. Hong Kong (China)

Extensive cooperation between telecommunications supplier Huawei and local universities keeps Hong Kong ahead of the innovation game, and entrepreneurs are fostered in the city’s competitive environment. Launched earlier this year, Accenture’s FinTech Innovation Lab offers a wide range of solutions to new businesses.

Among the “innovation learners” – nations that outperform their respective income group peers by at least 10 percent – Russia jumped 13 places to 49th and China climbed six places, reaching 29th. The sub-Saharan African region makes up almost 50 percent of all “innovation learner” economies, with the most progress in that category detected in Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Gambia and Rwanda – ones to watch in 2015. Within these nations, momentous improvements were made to infrastructure and institutional frameworks, as well as a deeper integration with global trade markets.

“Innovation and sustainable growth go hand in hand. In a boundary-less world such as ours, connected innovation is increasingly gaining prominence,” said Osman Sultan, CEO of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, in the report. “This is being fuelled by a more collaborative approach, challenging conventional methodologies and freeing-up efficiencies thereby benefitting everyone.”