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13 March 2018, Gateway House

Israel’s model approach to R&D, innovation

In OECD rankings, Israel frequently occupies top position for its investment in Research and Development. Deborah Housen-Couriel, Former member, Director-General’s Bureau, Israel Ministry of Communications & Fellow, Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, Tel Aviv University, Israel, in conversation with Gateway House

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Virpratap Vikram Singh (GH): Frontier technologies are transforming the existing business models along with the security architectures. What are some of the efforts that Israel has made to bring them into the legal and regulatory framework?

Deborah Housen-Couriel (DC): Your question really hits on some of the hard work that has been done in Israel within – and outside – the government in many cooperative ways, leveraging Israeli thinking and action in the area of innovation. For example, our chief scientist’s office, which has been very successful in the past in nurturing innovation across a wide range of disciplines, was recently taken out of the ministry so that it could have a little more autonomy and freedom to decide policy, keeping one foot in the government and one foot out. This change of approach has been very effective. It is a very interesting model: how governments take a step back and look at the way they regulate innovation in a different way.

GH: Does that mean that it was a mix of public and private partnership?

DC: There is always a good mix of public and private partnership. It may be informal, but it certainly works. As an Israeli citizen and one who has worked for the government and understand how it does it, I feel very proud that in measurements of Research and Development by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), we are often in the top corner of investment in R&D per person in the country. We occupy that space interchangeably with South Korea and others, if I remember right. That’s a real achievement, with a very far-reaching implication in terms of thinking strategically.

A second example is, invest in R&D, and do it wisely and across a broad range of technologies and initiatives. Invest also in young people, more established people, and professionals.

A third example – we’re on the cusp of it right now – is in the cyber context, which is more my home context, professionally, and has to do with regulating how cyber professionals are going to be trained in Israel. I’ve had the privilege of working on some of that policy a few years ago. It is now coming to fruition and Israel will soon flesh out how it is going to train cyber security professionals on a national level for the future.

GH: How effective has government legislation been against future threats and what kinds of plans are in place to address them?

DC: Of the three examples I gave, the R&D and innovation have been extremely successful. We have a great record of investment that is pretty much across the board. In innovation, Israeli start ups are everywhere and do quite well as also the more established Israeli companies. So that is a real success story and there is much to learn about how that works in terms of Israeli culture and Israeli leverage of young talent especially.

As for cyber security and how we are going to be training professionals, I will only say that the jury is out because the policy is just at its beginning stage. But I think it’s important just to know that we’re thinking about it, we’re planning it – as also this whole step of how we train the next generation of professionals. We are looking at the international global context and seeing how our policies fit in with those of others. We’re way ahead of the curve; we are trusting our instincts and hoping that our thinking is going to be for the best.

Deborah Housen-Couriel is Former member, Director-General’s Bureau, Israel Ministry of Communications; Fellow, Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Virpratap Vikram Singh is former Digital Media & Content Manager at Gateway House.

This interview was exclusively conducted for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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