As the second half of 2020 begins, we reflect on an unprecedented period of global turbulence: the COVID-19 pandemic, socio-political unrest and ongoing concerns about climate change. Against this background, the multitude of factors that make up success go well beyond GDP. The issues we’re facing demand a robust set of location factors that add up to competitive strength – and resilience in times of crisis.
IMD recently published its World Competitiveness Yearbook 2020. First published in 1989, the study uses benchmarking, statistics and data on economic, political, social and cultural dimensions to analyse and rank countries’ abilities to achieve long-term value creation.
After years of consistent improvement, Switzerland has moved up the ranking to third place – particularly encouraging given that this study takes such a holistic view of competitiveness factors.
Future success factors
I believe that Switzerland has much to offer in our times of volatility and uncertainty. But even more important in my view is to consider what we can do to build on existing strengths and position Switzerland in an increasingly digital/hybrid future. Here, I explore how Switzerland is performing based on four competitiveness criteria.
Switzerland is a nation of engineers. Our winding roads, breath-taking bridges and dense rail network are the envy of many a larger country. So it’s no wonder that Switzerland once again has a podium position in IMD’s ranking for the criteria infrastructure. But what kind of infrastructure should we be building now in readiness for the future?
Already, we understand the importance of digital aspects like fast and reliable fibre-optic broadband and wireless hotspots in rural areas. If smart cities are to become a reality, digital infrastructure will need to keep pace. Switzerland is making a concerted effort to build a future-proof network with stakeholder buy-in from government, telecommunications companies, electricity providers, cable operators, landlords and the public.
For me, infrastructure also includes non-physical aspects like a robust legal framework for digital activities, and strategies to ensure data integrity, sovereignty and security. We need to take a proactive approach to ensure our legislation does not lag behind technological developments.
Switzerland’s health system enjoys a global reputation. As a country, we spend a higher percentage of our GDP on health than any of our bordering neighbours. And we’re the only ones to have increased spending significantly (by around 15%) over the past decade.
I believe that our excellent healthcare reflects other strengths in Switzerland: we’re the life sciences hub of Europe, meaning that cutting edge research and development is happening on our doorstep. We attract the brightest minds from around the world, and some of them naturally find their way into our healthcare system.
Looking forward, I would like to see greater digitalisation of patient data and records as a way to enhance communication between players in different healthcare settings.
The Swiss education system is much lauded for its dual focus on academic and vocational tracks. It’s a recipe that has worked for many years. The quality of Swiss education has been singled out in various studies as exceptional, including in various WEF Global Human Capital Reports.
I believe that we need to capitalise on this outstanding quality and maintain it as educational needs and learning formats shift. Here at digitalswitzerland, we’re vocal supporters of #LifelongLearning. Our children will work in new professions like Ethical Technology Advisor, Personal Content Curator or even Robot Liaison Officer. Some will have job titles we can’t yet even imagine.
Today’s workforce will also have to upskill and adapt to new digital tasks and novel ways of working. And SMEs and multinationals alike will have to embrace change and empower their people to move with it. New learning formats and an explosion in the number of online courses will revolutionise the breadth and depth of learning opportunities. Let’s ensure Switzerland leads this revolution.
Having said in my introduction that it doesn’t all boil down to GDP, I think it’s important to note the strength of Switzerland’s economy. We have fantastic global trade links – partly because we’re an attractive location for international organisations, but also because we cultivate innovative home-grown business.
Particularly impressive, however, is the way we manage public finances. Switzerland’s national debt pales in comparison to that of its peers in Europe and around the world at around a third of GDP. As public spending reached new heights due to COVID-19 bail-outs, Switzerland is one of the few countries that won’t be devastated by this unpredicted financial expense.
Going forward, I have confidence in our political system to make decisions that balance the needs of our economy, health and individual businesses. In our turbulent times, this is a key resilience factor.
At digitalswitzerland, our mission is to position Switzerland as a leading innovation hub. I’m consistently impressed by the agility and adaptability of stakeholders in Switzerland’s ecosystem – not least during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Switzerland has many of the strengths needed to build resilience in a digital/hybrid future but it’s important to continue our progress. In cooperation with Wissensfabrik, we recently developed a whitepaper outlining five ways of how digital transformation can be continued.
I believe the foundations are in place and it’s up to all of us to build a future that benefits all.