Do Global Value Chains Offer Developing Countries Learning and Innovation Opportunities?

  • Valentina De Marchi
  • Elisa GiulianiEmail author
  • Roberta Rabellotti
Special Issue Article


The role of emerging economies in the global economy via embeddedness in Global Value Chains (GVCs) is increasing, but their ability to become innovation leaders is less certain. The GVC approach stresses that the inter-firm linkages afforded by being part of a chain are crucial for transferring knowledge. However, their impact on the innovation performance of the developing country firms involved in these GVCs remains controversial and requires more research. The present study provides a systematic review of the literature on developing country GVCs to investigate the learning channels used by local firms, both within (firm level, collective level) and outside of these value chains (i.e. external sources of learning), and the extent to which this activity promotes innovation. We use cluster analysis to classify the cases identified in a literature review to propose a novel typology of local GVC innovators: (a) GVC-led Innovators that achieve high levels of innovation, relying mainly on sources of knowledge within the GVC; (b) Autonomous Innovators whose innovation activity is based on external sources of learning; (c) Marginal Innovators, which constitute the largest group and are characterized by low levels of innovativeness and some use of knowledge available within the GVCs, but scarce use of external sources.


innovation Global Value Chains (GVCs) emerging countries learning knowledge transfer inter-firm linkages 

Le rôle des économies émergentes dans l’économie mondiale via l’intégration dans les chaînes de valeur mondiales (CVM) est croissant, mais leur capacité à devenir des leaders de l’innovation est moins certaine. La présente étude propose une revue systématique de la littérature sur les CVM des pays en développement afin d’étudier les canaux d’apprentissage utilisés par les entreprises locales au sein (au niveau des entreprises et au niveau collectif) et en dehors (les sources externes d’apprentissage par exemple) de ces chaînes de valeur. L’article étudie également la mesure dans laquelle cette activité favorise l’innovation. Nous proposons une nouvelle typologie des innovateurs locaux des CVM: (a) les innovateurs dirigés par les CVM qui atteignent des niveaux élevés d’innovation, en s’appuyant principalement sur les sources de connaissances au sein de la CVM; (b) les innovateurs autonomes dont l’activité d’innovation est basée sur des sources d’apprentissage externes; (c) Les innovateurs marginaux, qui constituent le groupe le plus important et se caractérisent par un faible niveau d’innovation et une certaine utilisation des connaissances disponibles au sein des CVM, mais une utilisation limitée des sources externes.



A previous version of this work was commissioned as a background paper for the UNIDO Industrial Development Report 2016 and was funded by UNU-MERIT. The authors benefitted from comments received in workshops organized by UNIDO in Vienna and Globelics in Cuba and they also thank two anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions.


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Copyright information

© European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Valentina De Marchi
    • 1
  • Elisa Giuliani
    • 2
    Email author
  • Roberta Rabellotti
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Economics and ManagementUniversity of PadovaPadovaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Economics and ManagementUniversity of PisaPisaItaly
  3. 3.Department of Social SciencesUniversity of PaviaPaviaItaly
  4. 4.Department of Business and ManagementAalborg UniversityCopenhagenDenmark

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