Technological Innovation

Dimension 8 of 17


We wanted to learn about Syria's capacity for technological innovation. We listened to a wide range of local, regional, and international actors influential in the life of Syria. The statements we heard told the same basic story: 

“There is nothing technological left. There is no technological development. Syria is very rich in natural resources, but Bashar Al Assad didn't develop anything. Wealth that came from its resources went to the Assad clan. All scholarships went to the Alawites. Hardly any went to anyone else.” (230713)
“We have a corrupted system of education. Most university professors are Baath Party members. People can graduate on connections without doing the work.” (231641)
“Whatever used to exist has been destroyed, either through war or Israeli air raid. Education in the field is impossible because of regulations. There is no support for an entrepreneurial system.” (233911)
“Agrees with all the comments from previous rounds. The government did not allocate money to technology. In most countries, if you invent something useful you have the right to benefit from it. Not in Syria. At one point unemployment in Syria was 31%. No outside investment was allowed. Some secret research organizations did work for the government, but the public did not benefit.” (233881)
“The infrastructure is gone” (238631)
“This worsens because of the on-going civil war, especially in the last few months.” (232272)
“Science education may exist in elementary school.” (235781)
“These exist on paper only. When you want to start a business government representatives have to be there. This is outside the law. They become partners in the business despite the interest of the owner. They also take most of the income. If the owner protests he will be killed.” (233081)
“The country has been in war for 6 years. Technology is not a priority.” (235931)
“The only innovation is in barrel bombs to stomp out the armed opposition. Everything that did exist has disappeared.” (239311)
“When the military is everything engineers go there. It strips the economy of their services. Syria is still more advanced technologically than some parts of the Middle East. They aren't rich, but they do have military capacity and major support from a powerful military, Russia. It had an education system. It's gone now. The brain drain is enormous. There is a weird technological development as spill over from the military, like when we got canned food because the military needed it.” (239312)

“Many refugees are from rural parts of the country and never experienced [basic technology].” (233531);

“Immunization goals have been 100% met in the local areas. Sanitation and health facilities exist. Communicable diseases and malnutrition are tracked and addressed.” (238341)

What does the state of Syria's capacity for technological innovation matter in your choice of partners, the design of initiatives, and the implementation of those initiatives? Read more to find out. Scroll to the bottom of the page for more statements. 


INCA DIMENSION #8:

SYRIA'S TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION


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Syria's Technological Innovation capacity is the 8th of 17 dimensions of Syrian society that influential local, regional, and international actors assessed and discussed through 3 rounds of interviews and feedback, beginning in January, 2016. Taken together, the 17 dimensions of the x-axis offer a comprehensive, holistic view of Syria and its people. Interview participants assessed the capacity of each dimension, represented by the y-axis; higher levels indicate greater capacity within that dimension for Syrians to respond effectively to existential global threats.

Technological innovation is important because it reveals the capacity of the country to solve technical, physical problems. Based on the 8-level hierarchy described in the question below, participants from 27 influential organizations assessed technological innovation in Syria at different levels at this time in history, ranging from 1 to 3. (At the bottom of this page, you can read statements interview participants gave to support their assessments.)



The Question

The level of a country’s technology capability can be seen in its basic technology, and the adequacy of 6 elements of technological capability: 

  • technology education
  • technology workers
  • systemic infrastructure
  • entrepreneurial ecosystem
  • regulatory framework
  • massive research funding to address global threats

Which of the following is most true for the country?


1. Almost all people lack full access in their lives to basic technology—electricity, clean water, sanitation, agricultural machinery, and basic vaccines.

2. There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and none of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

3.  There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and 1 of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

4. There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and 2 of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

5. There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and 3 of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

6. There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and 4 of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

7.  There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and 5 of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

8.  There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and all of the 6 elements needed to create new technology


READ CLOSELY, IMAGINE, LEARN

Read each statement below closely. Assume the person who wrote this is sincere; they believe every word. Imagine what life experience or background might lead a person to have this belief. Whether true or false, this person’s perception is a fact. 



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WORK WITHIN SYRIA’S CAPACITY FOR TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION: LACKING THE BASICS

The thick brown line represents a lack of access to basic technology

The thick brown line represents the most conservative assessment of Syria’s capacity for technological innovation, that most people lack access in their lives to basic technology—electricity, clean water, sanitation, agricultural machinery, and basic vaccines. Any organization operating in Syria should not rely on the presence of even basic technological infrastructure. 


STRENGTHENING SYRIA’S CAPACITY FOR TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION ONE STEP AT A TIME

Aim just right: build basic technology

The green area of the chart, from levels 1 to 2, indicates the kind of projects to strengthen Syrian capacity for technological innovation will be most likely to succeed, those that help bring electricity, clean water, sanitation, agricultural machinery, and basic vaccines to parts of the country. An example is a project by Water for People and Peace to train12 engineers to maintain water and waste stations in Damascus.

If you aim too high: destructive overreach

Projects and agreements in the red area of the chart are overly ambitious and, at best, will be a waste of time. More likely, they will drive confusion and corruption into the country. Any attempt to build advanced technical capacity (level 3) would be too much to do, as Syria currently lacks access to even the most basic of technologies (level 1). Without centers where citizens can access these basic technologies (level 2), any efforts to spur advanced technological development would likely fail.

Technological innovation in post-invasion Iraqi society was at a similarly low level in the spring of 2003. The United States, however, failed to recognize the level of technological innovation in many sectors of the Iraqi economy and instead enacted many programs based on the faulty assumption that Iraqis had the same kind of technical expertise and infrastructure as many emerging economies (level 4).  As a result, inappropriate practices and projects drove confusion and corruption into Iraqi society with disastrous results.

One overestimation of Iraq’s technological innovation was a U.S. program that imported new, state-of-the-art John Deere tractors to give to rural Iraqi farmers. Assuming that these farmers had the knowledge to effectively use these tractors, and that users of the tractors had access to the tools and infrastructure to maintain them (level 4), this project was implemented in the hope of increasing the productivity of farmers and giving them an entrepreneurial ecosystem from which they could expand into Western-style commercial farming (a level 5 goal). As our INCA platform reveals, however, this assumption was misguided and led to program overreach. Iraq had neither the technological education nor the infrastructure needed to properly use and maintain these tractors. Rather than using the tractors to increase agricultural productivity and expand their businesses, which was the intent behind the project, many of the farmers who received these tractors either sold them or stripped them for parts in order to buy or make more appropriate farming equipment like hoes.

Background Reading

For more information on INCA for Iraq, read our retroactive case study here: http://sovereigntyfirst.com/iraq/report


Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range

Lowest Score:1

Highest Score: 3

1. Most people lack access in their lives to basic technology—electricity, clean water, sanitation, agricultural machinery, and basic vaccines.

“There is nothing technological left. There is no technological development. Syria is very rich in natural resources, but Bashar Al Assad didn't develop anything. Wealth that came from its resources went to the Assad clan. All scholarships went to the Alawites. Hardly any went to anyone else.” (230713)
“We have a corrupted system of education. Most university professors are Baath Party members. People can graduate on connections without doing the work.” (231641)
“Whatever used to exist has been destroyed, either through war or Israeli air raid. Education in the field is impossible because of regulations. There is no support for an entrepreneurial system.” (233911)
“Agrees with all the comments from previous rounds. The government did not allocate money to technology. In most countries, if you invent something useful you have the right to benefit from it. Not in Syria. At one point unemployment in Syria was 31%. No outside investment was allowed. Some secret research organizations did work for the government, but the public did not benefit.” (233881)
“The infrastructure is gone” (238631)
“This worsens because of the on-going civil war, especially in the last few months.” (232272)
“Science education may exist in elementary school.” (235781)
“Some third-party actors like Russia or Iran may be importing high tech weapons.” (234281)
“These exist on paper only. When you want to start a business government representatives have to be there. This is outside the law. They become partners in the business despite the interest of the owner. They also take most of the income. If the owner protests he will be killed.” (233081)
“The country has been in war for 6 years. Technology is not a priority.” (235931)
“The only innovation is in barrel bombs to stomp out the armed opposition. Everything that did exist has disappeared.” (239311)
“When the military is everything engineers go there. It strips the economy of their services. Syria is still more advanced technologically than some parts of the Middle East. They aren't rich, but they do have military capacity and major support from a powerful military, Russia. It had an education system. It's gone now. The brain drain is enormous. There is a weird technological development as spill over from the military, like when we got canned food because the military needed it.” (239312)

2.There are centers where people have access to basic technology, and none of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

“Many refugees are from rural parts of the country and never experienced these things.” (233531);
“Immunization goals have been 100% met in the local areas. Sanitation and health facilities exist. Communicable diseases and malnutrition are tracked and addressed.” (238341)

3.  There are centers where people have access to basic technology, and any 1 of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

No Statements


Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range 

Lowest Score: 1

Highest Score: 4

1. Almost all people lack full access in their lives to basic technology—electricity, clean water, sanitation, agricultural machinery, and basic vaccines.

"Before the conflict Syria ranked similarly to its neighbors in scientific education. Since Bashar Al Assad the level of teaching went down because national exam scores were altered by people with influence to favor their children. Now there are no educational standards. Grades are bought and sold. Over 2 million children are not going to school." (221641)
"Whatever infrastructure that existed before has been destroyed by the war. The education system is archaic, established by the French, then Soviets, force-feeding instruction without a research concept. Bashar al-Assad tried to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem, but the country was too corrupt to go beyond the first step." (223911) 
" The country has not dedicated more than 1% of the national budget to education. There is very little invested in research. Money is spent on arms and security. This is not healthy for the government." (223881)

2. There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and none of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

No Statements

3.  There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and 1 of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

No Statements

4. There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and 2 of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

“Yes.” (221211)
 


Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at the level they did for this dimension. 

The Range

Lowest Score: 2

Highest Score: 4

2. There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and none of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

No Statements

3.  There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and 1 of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

“It depends on the part of the country. Historically, it was [better]. Education is slipping now. They are teaching Islamic Studies as superior and intolerant of others. They are raising a generation of separatists which will generate future conflicts.” (21526)

4. There are centers where people have full access to basic technology, and 2 of the 6 elements needed to create new technology

“There is no scientific life in Syria. If anything it is controlled by the Assad regime.” (21388)