The world is facing major challenges. To date, humankind has been unable to find a solution to preserve peace or to combat poverty or climate change. It is an illusion to believe that there is an immediate, ready-made cure for all problems. What we need is a work in progress approach: a continued willingness to bring together ideas from different fields and to develop them further in the light of scientific knowledge and in anticipation of chaos-theoretical linkages. Every year, individuals, national governments, corporations and organizations invest substantial amounts of money and time to master the challenges of our time. What the most forward-looking among them have in common is a relentless quest for innovation – a constant pursuit of new technologies, new products, new processes and, above all, new ideas.
Innovation can only come about with competing ideas. Individuals should be attracted by the plurality of ideas, curious about differences and eager to understand them.
They should meet and challenge their own ideas and finally test them on a wider public. This is how humanity progresses. You can only break new ground if you set out to look for it. And for that, we need a thriving landscape of all kinds of ideas and opinions, in particular those who challenge us to think outside the box, instead of following mainstream opinion. Collaboration through trial and error is the engine of innovation.
Switzerland, with its vibrant democracy, its different languages, religions and cultures, brings forth such interactions every day. Located in the heart of Europe – at the crossroads of people's paths – Switzerland’s broad diversity of opinion has shaped our country for centuries as a location for innovation. Without natural resources, Switzerland had to invest in intellectual endeavors and has always been home to researchers and inventors. No fewer than 23 scientists with Swiss citizenship have won the Nobel Prize in the natural sciences and in medicine. No country has more internationally registered patents per million inhabitants than Switzerland. One of the main reasons for this lies in the fact that the Swiss innovation environment is positioned very broadly; with state-funded basic research on one side, and a broad initiative of private organizations on the other, working together hand in hand.
However, the biggest challenge is to put all this discipline-specific expertise on a broader, cross-sectoral foundation. When the problems of our time are fast-moving and disruptive, we need to get our answers from outside our comfort zone and connect them across different fields. This convergence of sciences is expanding the field of scientific discovery and accelerating technological progress. This is why the Federal Government has created the GESDA-Foundation (Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator). Bringing together ideas to foster collective innovation, thus developing solutions to turn new technologies into opportunities – this is our strength.
Switzerland is focused on maintaining its position as an international innovation hub in the future: it is not a matter of predicting the future – an unrealistic objective even for the most innovative minds – but rather of anticipating possible developments and preparing society for this transformation. To quote the GESDA-Foundation: ‘‘let's use the future to shape the present’’.