Business mission to Israel shows Ontario serious about innovation, says U of T expert

Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne returned May 19 from a five-day business mission to Israel that emphasized innovation, research and development and resulted in 44 new agreements valued at more than $180 million. 

Wynne was accompanied by representatives of Ontario’s business, health and higher education communities – including the University of Toronto. U of T News spoke to Dan Breznitz, co-director of the Innovation Policy Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and chair of Innovation Studies, about the business mission.

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What purpose does a high profile, multi-participant trade mission like this one serve?

We need to put visits like this in perspective. Their main aim should be to finalize deals that have already been decided, open a few channels for future consideration by meeting face to face and establishing more personal networks between the two sides. However the real goal of these missions is political and declarative, showing the interest in making these collaborations work at the highest levels

Could the same results be achieved in other ways? Are such missions necessary?

Some of these missions are necessary at certain time points. However, to be honest, most of the work needs to be done through constant effort from both sides over several months and years. The real benefits from these relationships take years to fruit to completion

Can Ontario expect tangible benefits from this mission?

Like all of these missions this should be seen as a process, the tangible benefits might be a few agreements signed which otherwise would have taken months or even years to be completed. Ontario has lot to learn from Israel, and Israel can learn a lot from Ontario since our economies are very complementary and there is a lot of good will on both sides.

However, what might be the most important thing that Ontario can gain from this relationship is if we learn not how to copy Israel’s innovation policy, but learn how to devise our own. Israel has been a true pioneer since the early 1970s in effective innovation policy, if we can learn not what the policy has been, but how to approach the subject so we can quickly devise, experiment scale-up policies that work and close these that do not, that would be a most valuable lesson, and would make this trip a truly unique success.

Kathleen Wynne writes that the visit will “help establish Ontario as a top innovation and knowledge economy partner and investment destination.” Is this a realistic expectation?

The visit does indeed signal that the premier is serious about innovation and innovation-based growth, if, and only if, this would be followed with sustained efforts, experimental and creative policies, and true engagement with Ontarians then we can look back at this visit and see it as a turning point. But getting to be a globally leading hub of innovation-based economy needs time, patience and serious investment in terms of correct policies and resources. Israel started this process in 1968 and it took more than 20 years for the country to become a leading innovation hub. There is no cutting corners in this process and we should all hope that the premier will keep on pushing the agenda and ensure that it continues even after she leaves office.

U of T and other universities have participants in the delegation. What benefits do Ontario universities gain from the mission?

Israeli universities are not only global leaders in terms of academic excellence but also in terms of technology transfer and entrepreneurial education. We can only hope that this mission would lead to deepening the already very deep, relationships between Ontario’s universities and Israel’s top universities.


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