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International conference: Knowledge Economy – Challenges and Opportunities for Bulgaria

On 19-20 May 2004 ARC Fund organized an international conference titled Knowledge Economy – Challenges and Opportunities for Bulgaria jointly with the World Bank Country Office and Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. The conference was a follow-up to the World Bank’s KE Forum held in Budapest earlier this year (March 23-26, 2004). One of its main objectives was to help create a national consensus among all relevant stakeholders in Bulgarian society about the policies that need to be put in place in order to facilitate the country’s transition into a knowledge-based economy in the context of Bulgaria’s EU accession – a process which opens up many new opportunities for the country but also poses serious challenges for increased flexibility, adaptability and innovativeness of the Bulgarian economy.

The conference brought together a high-level audience including representatives of all relevant government ministries (i.e. Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Transport and Communications, Ministry of Finance and several others), members of parliament, advisors to the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, key people from the business and academic communities, NGOs and mass media. Participants were able to share their knowledge and experience regarding some of the main aspects and issues related to the establishment of an effective knowledge economy in Bulgaria, including:

• The theoretical and analytical models behind the knowledge economy concept;
• The central role of innovations and the national innovation system;
• The formation of human, intellectual and social capital;
• The information and communications infrastructure;
• The economic and business environment in Bulgaria.

Mr. Oscar de Bruyn Kops, Country Manager of the World Bank’s Bulgaria Office stressed on the topic’s importance for Bulgaria and pointed out the key elements of developing a knowledge economy: a favorable economic and institutional environment; a well educated and entrepreneurial labor force; a good infrastructure for wider deployment and application of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and an effective national innovation system. Prof. Alexander Fedotov, Vice-Rector of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” underlined the role of higher education institutions in creating and disseminating knowledge products. A stronger role of the government in encouraging growth and innovation was the main focus in the presentation of Ms. Eugenia Koldanova, Deputy Minister of Economy. According to her, Bulgaria should aim to achieve an annual rate of economic growth that is at least 2-3% higher than at present. Some positive steps in this direction include the legislative changes and policies in support of SMEs and competitiveness, as well as the project for a National Innovation Strategy, financed by a National Innovation Fund.

The World Bank’s knowledge assessment methodology and the performance of the Central and East European countries were presented by Mr. Jean-Eric Aubert, Lead Specialist at the WBI Knowledge for Development Program. He described the World Bank’s four-pillar model of the knowledge economy and mentioned also the importance of a fifth – more intangible - pillar which includes the so-called “social capital” – the leadership, vision and collective will for change and development. According to him, one of the main issues in Bulgaria with regard to its preparedness for the knowledge economy is the openness of the market (i.e. the tariff and non-tariff barriers). Mr. Pavel Ezekiev, Chairman of the Bulgarian Investment Agency stressed that the main problem for Bulgaria is not so much in the volume of FDI entering the country but in their quality. The country needs to do much more in terms of attracting investments in knowledge and knowledge intensive industries. Mr. Elli Anavi, Director of the Enterprise Policy Directorate at the Ministry of Economy suggested that entrepreneurs should be given some incentives to encourage greater risk-taking and investment in innovations. The need for the government to clearly articulate its sectoral priorities – particularly of the high-tech ICT sector - was the proposition of Ms. Sasha Bezuhanova, Deputy Chair of the Bulgarian International Business Association (BIBA). In her view, the ICT industry could become the driving engine for developing a knowledge economy in Bulgaria. Mr. Ruslan Stefanov, Economic Program Coordinator at the Center for the Study of Democracy highlighted the importance of coordination among all development strategies elaborated in Bulgaria. He also directed the audience’s attention to the need for a more in-depth assessment and comparison of the country’s performance vis-à-vis some of its main competitors as a basis for improving the quality of economic policy making.

One of the main conclusions in the thematic session was the need for enhancing the horizontal coordination and the establishment of knowledge transfer mechanisms between the government institutions, the private sector and the academic circles. The improvement of computer skills and computer literacy of students and teachers, the need for more investments and greater market orientation of the education system were the main theses in the presentations by Dr. Elissaveta Gurova from the Centre of Information Society Technologies at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Mr. Todor Yalamov, Coordinator of ARC Fund’s IT Group and Dr. Roumen Nikolov, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics at Sofia University. Other problems which the country currently faces are the insufficient social cohesion, mentioned by Ms. Irina Radevska, state expert at the Higher Education Policy Directorate of the Ministry of Education and Science, and the lack of solvent demand of innovative ideas from the business. The more effective allocation of resources and strengthening the role of the private sector were proposed by Mr. Lubomir Datsov, Deputy Minister of Finance. Participants identified as problematic the need to better define the ICT needs of the economy, the critical importance of raising computer literacy among pupils in secondary schools, and the need for Bulgarian firms to participate more actively in joint European projects and find European partners for that.

Ms Stella Dimitrova from the Innovation Relay Center – Bulgaria underlined that the strategy of the firms should be based on reliable and up-to date information. Dr. Panagiotis Damaskopoulos, Executive Director of the European Institute of Interdisciplinary Research (EIIR) in Paris stressed on the importance of geographical location and hence the need for clusters of innovation and business incubators. Seven factors for successful Information Society policies were presented by Ms. Corina Pascu from the European Commission’s Joint Research Center – Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (JRC/IPTS) in Seville. In a virtual presentation from Korea Mr. Orlin Kouzov, CEO of the ICT Development Agency within the Ministry of Transport and Communications outlined the six main elements of the new strategy for enhancing the competitiveness of the Bulgarian ICT industry.

Some solutions to the problem with the lack of up-to date information were suggested by several speakers: Prof. Rossitsa Chobanova from the Economic Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Mr. Kamen Spassov from the Coordination Center for Information, Communication and Management Technologies at the Council of Ministers and Mr. Todor Yalamov of ARC Fund’s IT Group. They presented the methodology and main results of the European Innovation Scoreboard, the Balanced Score-Card for the implementation of Bulgaria’s e-Government strategy and the e-Bulgaria report which measures the country’s preparedness for the information society. The speakers showed how these and similar tools can be used for making well-grounded policy decisions.

In the closing session of the conference, the co-organizers from ARC Fund and Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” made a commitment to continue the knowledge economy dialogue open by organizing further events on this topic – including the National Innovation Forum which will take place in October 2004 and the European Day of the Entrepreneur in November. Participants were also invited to join the virtual discussions and exchanges of knowledge organized by the Bulgaria Development Gateway.




Conference agenda
Conference website (in Bulgarian)
World Bank Knowledge Economy website
Development Gateway's Knowledge Economy Topic Page
Department of Mathematics and Informatics, Sofia University
Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (JRC/IPTS)
Information Society Gateway
Economic Institute, Bulgarian Academy of Science
European Institute of Interdisciplinary Research (EIIR)



 

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