Professor Natalia Ivanova is an Academician of RAS, First Deputy Director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Science.

The EWC journalists interviewed Natalia Ivanova in order to find out answers for a number of questions. Why are innovations and grain the great hope of Russia’s exports? Why is Donald Trump a man of new politics and how can he affect iPhone production? How beautiful streets influence people’s behavior? Did Victor Pelevin, a Russian fiction writer, predict everything? Read this article to know the answers.

People around the world speak about innovation. But what is innovation? How would you define it? 

– Innovation is introduction of something new, for example, an invention, which is commercially profitable. This is not necessarily some kind of technical innovation. An internet program that is sold well can also be innovative. Our engineers like to say that we are in many ways the first inventors. Probably, they are right. Nevertheless, often the Japanese, Chinese or Americans are those who bring those inventions to the market.

– What is the difference between breakthrough technologies and innovative technologies?

– Breakthrough technologies can change markets or entire industries. But to do this they need to become mass production technologies. For example, electric cars so far have not become breakthrough, although they are very promising. They now occupy a limited market share and are in fact artificially supported by the state and some business companies. This industry can fundamentally change the global engineering industry.

The Internet, on the contrary, is a breakthrough innovation. It has absolutely changed all our lives. This civilizational breakthrough influenced science, education, human communication and even government.


In your works, you often mention the terms ‘biotechnology’ and ‘environmental technologies’. Why do you focus on them? Do they somehow relate to innovation?

– It always seemed to me that one of the promising tasks of technical progress is working on life saving. All countries invest a lot of money in biomedicine and environmental improvement. The aging of the population is an objective process. It should be well understood that life expectancy, as a rule, concerns the duration of old age. The duration of the reproductive age is still the same. But the number of people aged from 60 to 90 years has changed. And this period of life relates to a number of problems caused by illnesses and one’s emotional state. Biotechnology is a big breakthrough in this area. The elderly have money, accordingly, there are large markets serving as the soil for innovation.

You are one of the founders of the theory of innovative development, a person who introduced this term into scientific usage. How do you imagine the correct development of each country?

– Countries shouldn’t isolate themselves. They should participate in the world processes including scientific, technological, environmental, economic and other ones. 10 years ago it seemed natural. But now people consider participation in world processes some kind of liberal dogma and think it is high time to get rid of it.


For example, Donald Trump and his policies?

– Indeed. He said he was closing the borders. This is a fundamentally new approach. Actually, I don’t think we will see that in action. The USA is a huge country with a huge market. In fact, they can afford isolating a bit. Nevertheless, do you know what reaction he caused due to this program? He decided not to let anyone from Syria enter the US. People immediately informed him that Steve Jobs was half Syrian. And the whole Silicon Valley became the opponents of his policies.

Now the USA have many institutions preventing Donald Trump from doing everything on his own. Even the President must observe the Constitution.

Should Russia somehow isolate itself?

– No, Russia must not isolate itself. It had to do that due to sanctions.

Probably, we need to regroup and focus on globalization and international cooperation. A country can change business partners and terms of trade relations.  No country moves forward alone. Transnational companies have already built factories around the world. The simplest example is iPhone. It is used everywhere but only few people know where it was invented and who produced it. In some ways, even Russia contributes to iPhone when manufacturing some kind of semi-finished product.


What, in your opinion, does now happen with the economy of our country?

– Everything is not as tragic as the media think. It is obvious that Russia has a huge potential. Even changing nothing we will have 1.5-2% growth per year due to food, clothes and footwear production for our population. But because of a huge shock from the sanctions we got into in a negative growth zone. And not because we stopped eating real Parmesan. The reason is that we were prevented from access to cheap finances. In Europe, we took loans at 2% per annum and developed them in Russia to 10-15% per annum. This channel was blocked, and everyone involved in that business was in terrible debt.

International business does not go to a country that is under sanctions. We left the place we had entered very successfully in the 2000s. Apparently, we won’t return it. Over the past three years, Russians came to an understanding that it is impossible to live like this. We have learned to use internal reserves. I believe the situation will improve.

Maybe, the orientation to internal reserves is useful?

– We know that whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger. (Laughs). This will influence our business.

Was this also a blow to the world economy?

– In terms of financial markets, Russia can be compared to Greece in Europe. But in terms of oil we are a big player in the world. And now we are becoming increasingly important in the market for the export of grain and other crops. We have a lot of land, the chernozem soils. It is funny that we used to import grain. Economically we are not that impressive but we have things like nuclear weapon giving us strong positions.

What is your current scientific interest besides innovation?

– I put much effort into the forum ‘Oil and Gas Dialogue’. Energetics is our everything. This is a very interesting branch correlating with the world economy, this is the intersection of innovation and technology.

Do you consider the issue of alternative fuels like bioethanol at the forum?

– Bioethanol is a good variant. But there is no need in it now. We have enough oil and gas for at least next 20 years. In terms of economy, oil costs 3 dollars but is sold for 60. Bioethanol costs 10 dollars and is sold for 15. That is how the economy works.

Bioethanol is useful in some cases. For example, if you have a farm and, accordingly, you have waste. If you can turn it into bioethanol, that is great.

But why should one turn his wheat and corn into bioethanol if he has oil? Once at the forum, one speaker from Egypt said he was often advised to place solar panels in the Sahara. But few people understand that they will hardly handle a week there because of sandstorms. In this situation, people need to find other ways of energy production.

That is why solar panels, windmills and waste-to-energy technologies are niche branches in Russia. But sometimes initiatives like that can materialize into big business. For example, in terms of large-scale salmon breeding Finish engineers invented the way how turn the production waste in this field into motor oil.

Is alternative fuel produced to replace oil in the future?

– People are convinved that the oil will soon run out.  In my opinion, people will find other source for energy production. It is necessary to invest a lot of money in the creation of new infrastructure and in scientific research to provide future generations with those other sources.

What is social innovation?

– Some reasonable social policy is often called social innovation. Sometimes it can have commercial results. For example, Sergey Sobyanin, Mayor of Moscow, began to rebuild the streets and organize flower beds there. One may hesitate, whether somebody really needs these flowers. But, in fact, when there is a boulevard decorated with flowers, the atmosphere is completely different. It is more likely that a club or café will be opened there but not in some dirty place.

My district now has a beautiful boulevard with flowers around the benches. It in a positive way influenced on the youth spending their free time there. They transformed culturally.

Or, for example, while traveling by Sapsan train, you will notice that people there are more disciplined than those traveling by usual trains. Thus, we can observe that the behavior of people depends greatly on social environment.

Is it possible to develop scientific research at the expense of charitable foundations?

– We should develop science by any money. In the developed countries, the private sector invests a lot of money in science. Charity provides from 1% to 5% of investment in science. In addition, charity is always aimed at some popular topic, for example, saving children, pandas or disabled persons. Such kind of activity disciplines people but it can hardly sponsor science.

However, it should be noted that all system of grants and scientific funds started from charity.

In the developed countries, there is a special way of charity.  The so-called ‘business angels’, often relatives, provide people with money for their startups. They are different from investors who sponsor a project and then request 50% of income.

Which countries are the most charitable?

– Of course, the USA. It is closely related to religion. American society can’t be called clerical, but people still go to church on Sundays. And they go there not only to pray but primarily to communicate with one another. The preacher explains the problems of the community on the background of the international situation. At Sunday school Americans listen to sermons and tell how they live, what they did, what was good and what was bad, etc. This helps people to be psychologically discharged. Charity comes from church. The USA has an idea that a rich person should donate to community 10% of his earnings. Tax relief plays a big role here as well. Nevertheless, this is not the central reason for highly developed charity in the US.

Does Russia have the culture of charity?

– It is emerging. In France, the lottery for science enters into fashion. Scientists go to the television and say that they need material support. Then there appears some fund, and some participants receive prizes. And it works well. The same thing is emerging in Russia.

In the US, there are churches where people discuss their problems. Englishmen have pubs in their country. Do you imagine such places in Russia where people can gather to discuss topics that concern them?

– In Russia these clubs on interests are now being formed at work. This trend comes from party meetings in the Soviet time. Councils of veterans used to be very popular. Their members properly distributed social support, knew people, places they live in and problems they face. This was a social organism which now is fading away.

Probably, nowadays social networks have replaced everything. People have nowhere to discuss the recipe for the pie, their last rests at the resort, except in Facebook.

Trump actively used social networks, and it worked. In public, he always appears with his children. It seems to me that he listens to them and thus knows what the youth want. He is more than 70 years old, and thus he gives the hope to those people who are no longer in an active age.

There is an opinion that girls should study math to keep up with the modern technologies. Do you find it reasonable?

– Mathematics is necessary for everyone to keep his or her mind in order. Physics is necessary as well to build a normal scientific worldview. A person should have a clear system of evidence and problem solving and a system of hypotheses. This is given only by mathematics and physics. According to my observations, physicists have the correct picture of the world.

Of course, literature must go with mathematics. Nowadays we should teach children oral speech as now the speech is greatly simplified and shortened like in sms. But it is very bad when literature as a subject is given to children like a list of books.

What books do you prefer?

– I always read books by Victor Pelevin. In ‘Generation P’ and ‘Pineapple Water for the Fair Lady’ he said almost everything possible about Russia, its trends and place in the world. I think, from the point of view of forecasting, writers often see further than scientists. For example, Vladimir Sorokin perfectly reflects our life. These people write about the present, but this is a glimpse into the future. I also enjoy reading Tatyana Tolstaya and even follow her blog.

What other types of art attract you?

– I am the person of the XIX century. I love opera, especially Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Real sophisticated connoisseurs consider Tchaikovsky to be like a fountain-park music. But for me he is absolutely great and unsurpassed. I feel good when enjoying opera, both Russian and European. I'm trying to understand the music my grandchildren listen to. But for me it is difficult, although I find some interesting things even this kind.

In my youth, I adored the Impressionists in painting. I believed that there was nobody better than they were. In all museums I visited, I wanted to see their works. Now, maybe, I do not feel the same. But I still like conceptual art.

According to statistics, only 10% of the members of RAS are women. What is the reason for that?

– For women, there are a lot of ‘traps’ in life like children, grandchildren, family relationships in general and so on. They give up everything for this, even science. Although science is the only way to properly build your life.

I can’t say how many women should be in science, 5% or 55%. Maybe, 10% in RAS is too few. Maybe, it is too many. Originally, there were no women in RAS at all.

Switzerland is a very advanced country in this regard. But even there women received the right to vote only in the 1980s.

Any community needs women. They bring harmony where men find it impossible. However, men’s vibe is stronger. And that is good for science. Men can stand their ground for a long time and achieve great results.

Agata Korovina, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community

Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov