Knowledge Parks as vehicles of development!

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 11:36:35 by

The goals of economic growth and development are no more exclusively dependent upon conventional approaches like public sector development programs which primarily focuses on infrastructure development projects. Many disruptive innovations are becoming increasingly popular for achieving development goals. Information technology and other disruptive innovations are instrumental for accelerating the pace of development.

The concept of Knowledge Parks (KP) is one of these disruptive innovations which are the focus of this article. In Pakistan the idea is still alien to our policy makers. Consequently we had not been able to use KPs as wealth generation vehicles like many other countries. But the initiative of the Punjab Government to set up a KP in Lahore is a welcome step and it is hoped that it will serve as a harbinger for many such parks to be launched in the country.

Why KPs? Put simply KPs as vehicle of wealth creation and employment generation sites have started to impact of late the developing world. Some examples of this development include Kerala (India) Techno Park and Malaysia Knowledge Park. Wealth creation and employment generation is made possible by these parks by turning incubators of ideas into the creation of wealth generation enterprise.

It is interesting to know that the Cambridge Science Park (UK) established by the end of the century had encouraged the growth of a cluster of 1200 enterprises around the Park which had employed some 35000 persons in the 1990’s. Similarly the Stanford Research Park (1951) and Cornell Business and Technology Park (1952) also exemplify KPs in the United States. Today, the Stanford Research Park has 140 companies in electronics, software, biotechnology and other high-tech fields and employs some 23000 persons. The innovation through KPs did lay the foundation of Silicon Valley.

Briefly, the concept of KP represents a symbiotic relationship between the academic and industrial worlds, offering opportunity for industry to form linkages with some of the finest research institutions in the world.

China’s Science Parks which started in the mid-eighties and had contributed enormously to economic development. Together these Parks had created 38000 businesses and 5 million jobs. Haiden Science Park in China is considered to be its Silicon Valley and was launched in 1998. With government support in the form of preferential treatment and tax breaks, this Park has become the leading innovation Centre and is home to 138 top research outfits, 6000 hi-tech companies and employs 400000 employees.

Launched in 1990, Techno Park Kerala (India), was the first of its kind in the country. Over 125 companies with 17000 employees it accounts for 70% of Kerala export. In the Middle East, for instance, there are quite a few such Parks. Knowledge Oasis in Muscat, Education City situated in the outskirts of Doha is a variation on the concept of Knowledge Park. Further Qatar Science and Technology Park represents a tripartite partnership of businesses, government agencies and academia to promote applied research and innovation. This Park is a ‘Free Zone’ offering easy access to foreign companies and is a source of direct foreign investment.

Knowledge Parks are an outgrowth of earlier Science or Technology Parks. What are the key features of KPs. Followings are some of their key features: (a) They encourage the design and development of knowledge-based enterprises, (b) they help in technology transfer, (c) they build capacity and provide services for the on-site companies and finally, (d) they offer linkages with Higher Education Institutions and R&D institutions.

What are different models of Knowledge Parks? Primarily, three basic models are available for the development of KPs. These are known as: (a) Indigenous Model which encourages new business development by facilitating technology transfer and innovation, (b) External Model which emphasizes attracting foreign investment, and (c) Hybrid Model which balances the development of indigenous businesses by attracting established foreign companies.

What area the benefits and pitfalls of KPs? Experience of the working of KPs had highlighted that these are sources of employment generation, support to new businesses, and promote closer linkages between academia and industry and seed-beds for innovation. Also, these help in arresting brain drain, brings knowledge, research and wealth generation though attracting foreign investment and business development. These are also considered to promote entrepreneurial environment and above all accelerate small and medium size business expansion.

As regards KPs pitfalls it is said that in a world already divided between the digital and development areas and promises world class premises in an environment lacking basic infrastructure and inflicted with abject poverty may sharpen a further sense of deprivation among those who can’t afford to eat to square meals.

What is the way forward?  On balance the benefits of KPs far outweigh their pitfalls. Therefore, developing countries like Pakistan following in the footsteps of India can take a step in exploring the possibilities of establishing multiple Knowledge Parks.  For these to be successful as means of wealth creation and employment generation they will need government support as an integral part of their development strategy.

For the Government of Punjab it will be pertinent to learn from the failures of such experiences while at the same time identifying the key success factors of the existing KPs for launching the Lahore Knowledge Park (LKP).As a first step, the Punjab government should develop a database of KPs so as to select a ‘model’ of Lahore KP. The Haiden Park in China may present a good case study for Punjab.

Last but not least, future wealth generation and job creation will require inclusion of KPs in our development strategy. But more than that to attract potential clients for LKP, it will be important to identify single point location to file all legal filing requirements so that these clients don’t have to run from one place to another. Second, it will be desirable that there is neither political nor trade union interference in the working of LKP. Third and most important, some surety will be essential to assure the potential investors that there will be continuity of policy irrespective of change of government.

The writer is a professor at LUMS and heading Center of Governance and Public Management at LUMS. He can be reached at zafar@lums.edu.pk

Lahore News Sources

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