I had the honor to present the closing keynote to the WSA Conference [World Summit Awards] which is part of the United Nations initiatives to promote innovation. I got to meet many of the winners at the wonderful event hosted in Abu Dhabi this week.

There was so much great innovation that was happening I am obliged to provide at least a quick comment on the scope of innovation in mobile. A decade ago, you could think that most innovations in mobile came from three countries: Japan, Finland and Sweden. Beyond those, almost all of the rest of the innovation was in Western Europe. Obviously since the iPhone launched in the United States, there has been an awakening to the mobile opportunity also in the USA. But here is the interesting part. The true new ideas and solutions around mobile are being invented honestly, on a global level. Let’s look a bit at just the field of awards.

World Summit Award 2010There were 407 mobile service/app concepts submitted for awards to the WSA this year, in 8 categories. The WSA awarded a total of 40 winners; roughly 1 in 10 would be a winner. About a third of all submissions came from Europe [no surprise, a lot of established big mobile companies and a very mature market]. The two next biggest areas, submitting about 20% of the concepts each, were from Asia-Pacific region [no surprise] and surprisingly… The Middle East. Africa and Latin America each submitted about 10% of the concepts, while North Americans only formed 5% of all nominated mobile apps or services. Yes, North America trailed Africa and Latin America by almost double.

That tells you a bit, in a kind of ‘survey’ of where there is ‘attempt’ to create new concepts and services and apps for mobile. What of the winners? The 40 winners came from 26 countries. That alone tells us, that this industry is really now spreading. First, let’s go to "the usual suspects". The classic leaders of mobile i.e. Japan, Finland and Sweden – won only 3 out of 40 awards. Yes, there is clearly still innovation in those countries, but most of it is now elsewhere.

How strong is North America, now powered by iPhone enthusiasm? The USA and Canada took home 5 awards from the WSA. A good showing yes, but quite pale, if we consider how much hype there is about how suddenly the North Americans have ‘retaken the lead’ in mobile. Even powered by the hundreds of thousands of smartphone apps, they really didn’t do that much. So where are the winners then?

First, three of the winners came from Latin America [Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala]. Then the Middle East. Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia and UAE all produced a winner so there were 4 from the Middle East. Apart from countries of Egypt and Tunisia [which also are part of Africa] the other African submissions were not given overall winning awards this year.

Asia was more successful. The advanced parts of Asia-Pacific rim didn’t do particularly well, Australia joining that previously mentioned Japan, for a total of 3 winners. But the Emerging World part of Asia was far more successful, taking home awards from Bangladesh, China, and a total of 4 for India, and Sri Lanka, for a total of 7 for the Emerging World part of Asia. Latin America comes close to North America, and Emerging parts of Asia quickly outperform the wealthy industrialized parts of Asia. This is quite interesting. Let’s see finally how that European continent split in terms of their award-winners.

The Western European nations won 11 awards at the WSA [with winners from Austria, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the UK] while Eastern Europe won 7 awards [winners from Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Russia and Slovenia].

The planet’s population is split roughly 1 in 6 lives in the wealthy ‘Industrialized World’ nations of North America, Western Europe, Oceania and wealthy parts of Asia like Japan, South Korea, and Singapore etc. Then the remaining 5 in 6 live in the less affluent parts of the ‘Emerging World’ [previously known as ‘Developing World’ or even earlier ‘Third World’ countries].

Out of the mobile phone subscriptions, about 1 in 4 is in the wealthy Industrialized World, and the remaining 3 out of 4 subscriptions are in the Emerging World.

And to use that popular acronym, BRIC, the countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China all won WSA awards, with a total of 9 out of the 40 awards – almost 1 in 4 of the most innovative new mobile concepts, came from Brazil, Russia, India and China. Yes, the competition is coming from surprising areas in mobile.

In 2010, out of the best 407 mobile phone services and apps sent to the United Nations sponsored World Summit Awards, the jury of pre-eminent mobile specialists and experts, awarded the winning nominations so, that 19 out of the winners went to the wealthy parts of the planet, and 21 of the most innovative mobile services were won by companies based in the Emerging World markets.

Remember Mexico-based Carlos Slim is now the wealthiest person on the planet? Well, he is going to get plenty of new company among those getting rich in the world, and already in 2011, more of the best of the innovation in the world is coming from less affluent markets of the ‘Emerging World’ than the rich countries of what used to be called ‘the West’. No winners from traditional big European industrial powerhouses like France, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland etc. But winners on the most innovative mobile services and apps now awarded to the young hungry bright minds at companies from Bulgaria, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Tunisia, Latvia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Egypt, Slovenia, and the UAE.

Who knew?