Building capacities for innovation

Most disadvantaged segments of the population frequently lack adequate capacities or skills for innovation. These are acquired through formal education, vocational education and on-the-job training, and include notably the ability for problem solving, critical and creative thinking, ability to learn and to manage complexity, ability for team working and communication, having initiative and motivation, being receptive to innovation, and leadership and entrepreneurial skills, among others (OECD, 2010).

To build capacities of researchers from underrepresented groups

Researchers from disadvantaged or underrepresented groups frequently face significant barriers during their research careers (e.g. more difficulties in accessing funding, problems in combining research careers with familial responsibilities). These challenge their access to more senior positions in research institutions. Instruments to address such barriers include the provision of:

  • Targeted grants to fund research projects led by researchers from disadvantaged groups. This approach is followed by Thuthuka programme in South Africa, which specifically targets black people and women at different stages of their careers. Applications are evaluated using several criteria, including quality, scientific contribution and potential for human capital development. Funding is granted for three years, conditional on satisfactory annual progress reports. In Korea, the Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WISET) provides grants to support engineering research projects led by female graduate students, in order to support their research and leadership capabilities.
  • Funds to research institutions to improve the research environment for women. An example is the Programme to Support Research Activities of Female Researchersin Japan. The programme’s goals are to increase the number of women in research, improve their research skills, and support their appointment to leading positions. Plans designed by research institutions may include measures such as providing researchers (regardless of gender) with assistants during specific “life events” (e.g. childbirth, childcare, care of elderly relatives) so that they can balance research with personal responsibilities; establishing flexible employment arrangements, including flexitime, job sharing and part-time work; providing childcare services; and encouraging female students to pursue an academic career.
To build entrepreneurship skills of underrepresented groups

Entrepreneurship skills are crucial for starting and operating a business. These include skills in the fields of finance, marketing and human resources management, as well as capacities to identify new opportunities. Disadvantaged groups are likely to have less experience and a weak knowledge base to start and manage a business. Instruments to build those capacities include:

  • Entrepreneurship education in schools. Primary schools can play a key role in shaping positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship, while secondary school can incentivise the acquisition of certain technical skills, such as business planning and access to finance (OECD/EU, 2016). Other less formal activities might be highly effective in increasing the interest in entrepreneurship of students from most disadvantaged groups. The Mosaic Enterprise Challenge of The Prince’s Trust in the United Kingdom is an annual inter-school competition where students aged 11-16 years, with mentor support, learn about establishing and running a business through a business simulation game. The winning team is then supported in developing and launching their business idea (Prince’s Trust, 2016).
  • Entrepreneurship courses in the context of vocational education. These courses allow reaching more disadvantaged groups that are less likely to attend higher education institutions. They should focus on strengthening practical skills to apply to real business situations. The strong links vocational education centres often have with the business community can facilitate their opportunities to engage in traineeships and strengthen their business-related skills through practical experience (OECD/EU, 2016). 
  • Entrepreneurship training provided out of the formal education system (e.g. courses within active labour market initiatives) may be particularly relevant for disadvantaged youth and older people with low levels of educational attainment (OECD/EU, 2016). 


To strengthen general scientific literacy

Another, more longer-term policy objective that can help integrate disadvantaged groups in innovation activities is to strengthen the scientific literacy of the general public. Relevant policy instruments include:

  • Investment in high-quality science education for all. The National Action Plan for Scientific Literacy in China, for example, promotes increasing investment in compulsory scientific education and in public education infrastructure, including science and technology museums, with the long-term goal that all Chinese adult citizens achieve a basic level of scientific literacy by 2025. To achieve this goal, it is crucial to guarantee that all segments of society have equal access to quality education.
  • Projects for communication regarding and popularisation of science and technology. For example, the National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC) in India implements a range of initiatives to disseminate scientific knowledge, making use of folk, mass and social media. One popular initiative is the Science Express, a mobile science exhibition mounted on a train travelling across India since 2007. For four years, it showcased ground-breaking discoveries and the latest innovations in the field of modern science by using exhibits, models and audiovisual displays. Since 2015, it has aimed at raising awareness among all groups of society as to how climate change can be combated through mitigation and adaptation (Department of Science and Technology, 2016). 



Thuthuka programme – South Africa


Objective: Develop human capital and improve the research capacities of researchers from underrepresented groups.

Target: Researchers from disadvantaged groups, particularly women and black people.

Instrument: Grants for research projects proposed by researchers from disadvantaged groups.

Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology – Korea


Objective: Foster women’s participation in science, engineering and technology research and industry.

Target: Women at different stages in their careers in STEM fields.

Instrument: Grants to support engineering research projects led by female graduate students; support for female researchers returning to R&D activities after a career break (e.g. due to maternity); and mentoring programmes for young women in high school.

Programme to support the research activities of female researchers – Japan


Objective: Increase the number of women in leading positions in research, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Target: Women researchers.

Instrument: Funds to research organisations to develop and implement measures aimed at improving the research environment for women researchers; awareness-raising activities in high schools and colleges to encourage women to take up careers in STEM disciplines.

National Action Plan for Scientific Literacy – China


Objective: To increase general scientific literacy in the country, with the objective of providing every adult citizen with basic scientific literacy by 2050.

Target: All citizens, with the focus on disadvantaged populations from underdeveloped regions.

Instrument: Investment in compulsory public education; investment in education infrastructure (e.g. S&T museums); organisation of popular science activities (e.g. National S&T week).

Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development – India

Initially launched in 1985 and reformulated in 1996-97–present

Objective: The programme aims to promote the development of lagging areas by supporting micro-enterprises.

Target: Micro-entrepreneurs in lagging regions.

Instrument: Financial support is provided to selected implementing agencies for 4 years.


Department of Science and Technology (2016) National Council for Science & Technology Communication (NCSTC), Government of India, (accessed 19 January 2017).

OECD (2010), Skills for Innovation and Research, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD/EU (2016), Inclusive Business Creation: Good Practice Compendium, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Prince’s Trust (2016) Enterprise Challenge,