Bangladesh's ranking on the Global Innovation Index (GII) has neither progressed nor regressed in the last three years.
In the 2020 rankings published on Wednesday, Bangladesh ranked 116th among 131 economies.
In the latest ranking, Bangladesh performed better in innovation outputs than in innovation inputs. It ranked 119th in innovation inputs, which was worse than last year and the year before.
India led the South Asian region on the index, ranking 48th. Moving up four notches since last year, it also became the third most innovative lower middle-income economy in the world.
The world's second most populous country was followed by Nepal (95th), Sri Lanka (101st), and Pakistan (107th).
Afghanistan, Bhutan and the Maldives were not ranked on the 2020 index.
Developed by Cornell University, INSEAD, a graduate business school with locations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America; and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a specialised agency of the United Nations, the GII ranks world economies according to their innovation capabilities.
Consisting of roughly 80 indicators, and grouped into innovation inputs and outputs, the GII aims to capture multidimensional facets of innovation.
As for innovation outputs, Bangladesh ranked 114th. This position was also worse than last year and in 2018.
Bangladesh ranked 98th in the first edition of the index released in 2007. Since then, its position has fluctuated.
Relative to GDP, Bangladesh is performing below expectations for its level of development, said the report.
Bangladesh produces more innovation outputs relative to its level of innovation investments, it added.
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, told The Business Standard it was not surprising that Bangladesh would perform poorly on the innovation index.
"Have we made innovations about any new product? Maybe we have imported some equipment and made refrigerators. But even then, we are unable to make the progress that is possible to be made here," he said.
"We can adopt new marketing strategies by using technology. But for that technology, we are still dependent on other countries," said Ahsan.
He said Bangladesh was witnessing some infrastructural development, but the pace was very slow.
"A large part of our population is still illiterate. On the other hand, there are literate people who cannot speak or write a complete sentence. We are not achieving excellence through education. That is why Bangladesh still lags far behind in human resource development and research," he explained.
Ahsan Mansur said the government could not make progress in this regard despite taking initiatives because of institutional weaknesses.
"The quality of teachers is also questionable. There are teachers who cannot even use a computer. We cannot build a nation with such teachers."
The economist pointed out that there is an immense lack in the country's institutional development.
Government offices could not be automated yet, he said.
According to Ahsan Mansur, the government should think afresh about innovation. He added, "but individuals should come forward, too."
Bangladesh has high scores in one out of the seven GII pillars – infrastructure – which is above average for the lower middle-income group.
But compared to other economies in Central and South Asia, Bangladesh performs below average in all seven of the GII pillars.
Switzerland came out as the world's most innovative economy in the 2020 rankings, followed by Sweden, the US, the UK and the Netherlands.
Covid-19 crisis hits innovation landscape
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the innovation landscape at a time when it was flourishing. But this crisis has already catalysed innovation in many new and traditional sectors, such as health, education, tourism and retail.
"The rapid, worldwide spread of the coronavirus requires fresh thinking to ensure a shared victory over this quintessential global challenge," said World Intellectual Property Organisation Director General Francis Gurry.
"There are now genuine risks to international openness and collaboration on innovation. Faced with unprecedented challenges, whether sanitary, environmental, economic or social, the world needs to combine efforts and resources to ensure the continuous financing of innovation," said Bruno Lanvin, executive director for global indices at INSEAD, a graduate business school with locations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America.
A shifting innovation landscape
The geography of innovation continues to shift, as GII 2020 shows.
Over the years, India, China, the Philippines and Vietnam have been the economies with the most significant progress in their GII innovation ranking. They are now in the top 50.
The top-performing economies in the GII are still almost exclusively from the high-income group, with China (14th) remaining the only middle-income economy in the GII top 30.
"As shown by China, India and Vietnam, the persistent pursuit of innovation pays off over time," said Soumitra Dutta, former dean and professor of management at Cornell University.
"The GII has been used by the governments of those countries and others around the world to improve their innovation performance."