Oct 2016
Wed, 12 Oct 2016

#BridgingInnovation: The Role of Third Sector Organizations in Advancing Innovation and Trade Dynamics

Article by Jennifer Hawkins
  • 0

Smart firms realize that in order to be competitive in today’s rapidly shifting economic and geopolitical environment, they cannot rest on their laurels. They must be prepared to innovate and explore business opportunities around the globe.

Governments are also coming to terms with the need to ensure that the frameworks for supporting business innovation and trade are in place for long-term economic growth. Beyond business and government, organizations in the so-called “third-sector,” comprised of nonprofits, associations, and universities, also influence the innovation and trade dynamic.

Through the Endeavor Fellowship Program I recently had an opportunity to immerse myself in the innovation and trade conversation in Australia and look specifically at the roles that third-sector organizations, like the American Chamber of Commerce and universities, play in supporting and facilitating the trade and innovation dynamic between the United States and Australia. To explore this, I reviewed reports and media, talked to individuals involved, and attended various events related to the issue.

This is what I discovered:

  1. Trade and innovation have a reciprocal relationship.
    Innovation and global trade are independent drivers of economic growth. Trade supports economic growth by increasing access to new markets for firms as well to new suppliers who are better, faster, or cheaper. Economic growth also occurs as new firms and lines of business are created around innovative ideas.Furthermore, there is a dynamic between trade and innovation. That is, firms that innovate are more likely to operate globally and firms that are operating globally are more likely to innovate. A 2016 report by the Australian Department of Industry Innovation and Science, looking at Australian small and medium sized firms, estimated that innovative firms are 4-8% more likely to be exporters, while exporters are 7-10% more likely to be innovators. That same report demonstrated that businesses involved with some form of collaborative arrangement – like joint R&D, integrated supply chain, etc. – are 5% more likely to export and over 10 % more likely to innovate.


  1. Networks and intermediaries are key elements to success in both innovation and international business.

Innovation happens when individuals and new organizations are exposed to radically different ways of thinking and doing.

It is impossible for everyone to know everything, especially in the fast-paced, global world of innovation and business. It is inevitable that information and access gaps exist, thus impeding transfer and translation of new knowledge.  People and organizations whose networks span gaps have access to diverse information, ideas, and interpretations which give them a competitive advantage in identifying and pursuing new innovations.  The larger your network, the more likely you are to innovate.

Intermediaries help expand the network and bridge the gaps. Academics have outlined four roles intermediaries play that help create value in the innovation ecosystem:

1-Informing one group of interests and difficulties of another group

2-Transferring best practices

3-Communicating parallels between groups

4-Connecting two groups based on knowledge of shared interests or opportunities

By helping to broker information and connections, intermediaries play a critical role in addressing knowledge and information gaps.

Intermediaries may include businesses, universities, research organizations, and third-sector organizations (such as non-profits or business associations).  One report noted that for Australia, such intermediaries “play an integral part in collaborative activities supporting any aspect of the innovation process. They can play a key role in the ‘market for knowledge in relation to the transfer and translation of knowledge and technologies from creators to users in a business (commercial) context.”


  1. Individual relationships are invaluable in advancing innovation and trade.

Social capital is a critical enabler for trade, investment, and innovation.

There is an adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” At the root of that saying is social capital. Social capital exists where people have relationships that help them achieve their goals.

Business transactions take place between people. Where risk or uncertainty exists, people want to do business with those they know and trust, hence business is often done on the basis of personal contacts. Those relationships are established through a range of formal and semi-formal organizations and communities.

While technology has enabled collaboration and engagement across borders and sectors, trust is difficult to build on the internet. This is the value of organizations and associations that bring people together in person.  These networks, which can be further enhanced by technology, become a context for action.

A Brookings Institution report on global trade and investment noted that “Global commerce is driven by relationships and networks.” This was reinforced in conversations with stakeholders in Australia and in various reports on the topic such as the 2015 Australian International Business Survey, which found that 91% of respondents identified personal networks and contacts as important factors in targeting the United States as a new market.

The importance of social capital is not restricted to business. An Australian university leader reiterated the value of individual relationships in the academic context. “Personal relationships are critical to the creation and full leveraging of the global networks, particularly around research.”


#BridgingInnovation with the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia

There is much activity and interest in the trade and innovation dynamics between the United States and Australia. Both U.S. and Australian governments are keen to advance both trade and innovation. Large and small firms are finding ways to engage and collaborate across borders and with universities, and many Australian universities see innovation commercialization and private sector collaboration to advance economic growth as a priority.

To realize the full value from trade, investment and innovation dynamics, individuals and organizations who facilitate connections both within, across, and outside of Australia are critical.  AmCham, with its national and international ties, has membership that spans sectors and industries and a well-respected voice. It is in a unique position to help advance knowledge and facilitate the necessary interconnection process.

#bridginginnovation is the very appropriate and inspirational hashtag used by the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia to highlight the work they are doing as an intermediary in the trade and innovation space. They are pursuing a variety of activities to help members learn about best practices (through podcasts and innovation missions), connect members who have a shared interest in the topic (through innovation access and advocacy committees), and inform government officials of the interests and difficulties of their members (through door knocks and policy papers).

It is through these current and future initiatives that individual members can engage directly in furthering the innovation and trade dynamic for their own firms, and more broadly between the United States and Australia.


“Innovation is not a destiny on its own, it is an imperative in an open global economy.” 2015 Australian Innovation Ecosystem Report



Australian Innovation System Report (2015), Australian International Business Survey (2015), The 10 Lessons from Global Trade and Investment Planning in the U.S. Metro Areas, Global Innovation Index, OECD, Modelling the Relationship Between Innovation and Exporting: Evidence from Australian SMEs (2016),

Structural Holes and Good Ideas, The Role of Intermediaries in Support of Innovation (2007),


Jennifer Hawkins is the Program Director for Strategic Initiatives and Engagement in the Carlson Global Institute at the University of Minnesota. Prior to joining the University, she worked in economic development for state and local governments as well as the private sector. Ms. Hawkins has an undergraduate degree in International Economics and Political Science from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She received her Master’s degree in Public Policy and an MBA from the University of Minnesota. She was hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia for her 2016 Endeavor Fellowship.

For more information on how you can contribute to the AmCham blog, check out our ‘AmCham Blog Guidelines‘ or contact our office today.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>