John Gerzema: 10 Countries Leading the Way as Innovation Nations

John Gerzema: 10 Countries Leading the Way as Innovation Nations

A thought-leader details the powers heading innovation in the 21st century

  • 17 february 2016

‘Innovation’ is perhaps the most over-used word today. So it’s interesting to see how people around the world define the term. In our new book, Best Countries: Defining Success and Leadership in the Twenty-First Century, David Reibstein, Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School, and I gathered perceptions on 60 countries among 16,000 elites, business decision makers and citizens.

Published by U.S. News & World Report along with our Best Countries study presented at Davos, we find that countries in the top 10 for entrepreneurship score highly in a range of traits that point to a ‘national culture of innovation’.

The top 10 are:

1 – Germany

2 – Japan

3 – United States

4 – United Kingdom

5 – Canada

6 – Sweden

7 – Netherlands

8 – Australia

9 – Singapore

10 – Denmark

Despite being manufacturing-led, Germany is seen for being “innovative” across its society—from its politics and leadership to its diplomacy and global citizenship. Germany gets high grades from people around the world for creativity in holding together The European Union, handling the migrant crisis, Ukraine, Greece and even dealing with its own Volkswagen scandal.

The next two countries in the top 10—Japan and then the United States—were highly regarded in many areas yet received comparatively low marks in business transparency, supporting small businesses and offering affordable healthcare and education.

Of greater interest perhaps are other “innovative” countries outside the top three. The World Bank Development Finance Project is helping Nigeria build financial infrastructure through a $500 million International Bank for Reconstruction and Development credit. The Irish government uses the SME Online Tool to digitally connect small businesses with the €2 billion in government funding available (Ireland also ranks in the top 10 best countries for international investment, while Singapore, which tops our list of Forward-Thinking Countries, recently committed 500 million Singaporean dollars to the ICT for Productivity and Growth program to improve high-speed connectivity for SMEs.


When you step back, ‘innovation’ is really about a country’s commitment to champion human creativity. African countries are encouraging innovation among women and young entrepreneurs. Ethiopia is offering incentives for women through loans and microfinancing; Namibia and South Africa have abolished all legal barriers for women to become entrepreneurs. Known for its copper production, Chile is looking to make a name for itself in a new export: innovation. The government-led Start-Up Chile initiative provides capital, including a visa, for international entrepreneurs. Mark Zuckerberg hand-picked Bogota, Colombia as the site for Facebook’s first international town-hall meeting for its growing entrepreneurial culture.

start-up chile

According to our Markets of Opportunity rankings, elites are long on India, Thailand and Brazil.

Innovation unleashed in an entrepreneurial environment can imbue a nation with a sense of purpose. It is no coincidence that the most highly-regarded countries in this subset of our survey are often found at the top of global assessments for quality of life, political stability, and a belief in the individual’s role in charting his or her own success. Where nations provide the right environment for entrepreneurs to make the most of their innovations, people feel the sense of purpose that comes with empowerment.

John Gerzema is a pioneer in the use of data to identify social change and help companies anticipate and adapt to new interests and demands and is the Chairman & CEO of BAV Consulting. His newest book Best Countries: Defining Success and Leadership in the Twenty-First Century, with Professor Reibstein, includes interviews, data and case studies from leaders, companies and governments from over 80 nations around the world.


Sascha Kohlmann | CC | Image cropped

View from Ponte Tower via Shutterstock


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