The latest Global Innovation Index 2018 shows typically mixed results for South Africa and other BRICS countries, both in overall innovation rankings and innovation efficiency (innovation outputs vs. inputs):

Country/Economy         Rank     Efficiency Ratio            Rank

China                                17           0.92                                3

Russia                              46           0.58                                77

India                                 57           0.65                                49

South Africa                    58          0.55                                83

Brazil                                64          0.54                                85

Good-to-average innovation rankings (second column) versus more wide-ranging efficiency rankings (fourth column) is a long-standing inconsistency of BRICS economies. As noted in a BRICS journal some years back, “with the exception of China, BRICS countries are not … getting enough output from the resources they have”.

By contrast, another group of economically strong countries outside the global north displays more balanced rankings:

Country/economy          Rank     Efficiency Ratio            Rank

Singapore                         5            0.61                                  63

Hong Kong                      14           0.64                                 54

South Korea                    12           0.79                                 20

As the journal notes, the success of these countries can be copied more effectively than the paths of other top performers, such as the countries of Western Europe or the United States. But how?

There are great social and economic variances separating BRICS countries, but the path to market success tends to be the same: finding an area of strength in the country’s environment and finding a way to make it productive domestically and globally.

Here are some of the celebrated successes that will hopefully be emulated many times over in the near future:


Supported by Internet companies like Tencent, China’s digital economy will exceed $6 trillion by 2020, pushing traditional economic sectors into renewed growth and improving people’s livelihood through technological innovation and inclusion.


Tata Motors – upstream, the company has captured a growing market in vehicle components, and downstream, it has expanded its offerings through affiliates in multiple regions to bring its $1,700 Nano to the masses.


One of Russia’s newcomers following in the footsteps of greats like Kaspersky Labs, Christoedelo combines entrepreneurial outcomes with social awareness in projects aimed at protecting the environment.

South Africa

Canonical – South African IT billionaire Mark Shuttleworth founded Canonical to promote free open source software (FOSS) projects such as the Ubuntu operating system. FOSS is a key tenet in the battle to bridge the digital divide.


Braskem – the plastics we use every day come from crude oil. Braskem uses sugarcane rather than fossil fuels, representing social as much as economic entrepreneurship with an innovation that reduces greenhouse gases.

Often, as can be seen above, winning innovations have a positive social impact. In other words, BRICS countries’ biggest weakness – social inequality – has frequently been their biggest strength!

It now rests on the leaders, challengers and newcomers of South Africa’s industries to create the upsurge of sustainability solutions needed to start a wave of innovation-fuelled growth with associated positive social impact.