This is an article that, even a few months ago, I could never have imagined writing. While big events that will set the future for Catalyst Inc were concluding in Belfast, I was in Hanoi, participating in the celebrations of 45 years of diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Previously, I associated the word Vietnam only with the worst that one human can inflict on another. In reality, I found a people, universally friendly, disarmingly direct and with a passion for their country and for driving its economy forward by means of science.
Before continuing, I want to use this column to publicly offer my congratulations to the new CEO of Catalyst Inc, Steve Orr, and to wish him and the team the best of good luck and success into the future. It was a fair, open and international process. I’m delighted Steve won the race and assure him of my continuing support. I also want to congratulate the whole team, our partners Dankse Bank and Ormeau Baths and especially our Patron HRH the Duke of York KG with their successes in September with the Pitch at Palace On Tour and the official opening of Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub.
Back in Hanoi, my first engagement was attending the UK-Vietnam research and innovation workshop in the presence of Gareth Ward, the UK Ambassador, and Vietnam’s Vice Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Pham Hong Quat. My task was to give a keynote speech on“…the 4thindustrial revolution, and implications for developing countries”. Fortunately, I had attended our Future of Work in Northern Ireland Solutions Summit in Belfast where this was the subject of the keynote given by Ravin Jesuthasan and more recently heard from the Governor of the Bank of England on his views of the 4thIndustrial Revolution.
The technology is difficult and the impact unimaginably huge but I think the solutions are simple: education and employee engagement. I guess the first is obvious. The second comes from the need to remind every customer, every employee and every supplier to any organisation that robots only carry the integrity of the human who wrote the code or give them their instructions.
Of course, these things are not simple to do and I applaud the Vietnamese government for its interest and enthusiasm to create suitable policies while there is time to spare; would that a certain other government should focus as hard on the future!
My main task of the week concerned my new role as Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s “Leaders in Innovation Fellowship”, one of the UK’s Newton Fund programmes. Rio had been my first engagement but that was mainly observation. Hanoi was hands-on, interviewing for a new cohort, meeting previous ones to hear their stories and seeing at first hand examples of the science parks and co-working spaces being fostered by MOST in their work to continue the exponential economic growth achieved in the last decade. It seemed that every penny of international development aid has been invested in their knowledge economy.
My week ended with another speech, this time on “Tech Commercialisation”. I had to admit that it’s a term I hate. To me it has a tone that implies “a bit on the side of something more important”. To a sea of nodding heads, I said it should become mainstream development; turning science and technology into new products and services is not separate from the real world, it is intrinsic to it.
Actually, I was preaching to the converted!