Learning and Upgrading of Craft Exporters at the Interface of Global Value Chains and Innovation Systems

  • Jan FransenEmail author
  • Peter Knorringa
Original Article


Firms operating at the interface of global value chains (GVCs) and innovation systems (ISs) are expected to have better access to knowledge than their competitors, enabling them to learn at a faster pace. This article assesses if and how learning at the interface enables handicraft exporters in emerging economies to upgrade and deepen their capacities. Our conclusion from the analysis of three case studies is that craft exporters incrementally deepen their capacities, but only rarely upgrade. Quasi-hierarchical GVCs in combination with immature ISs are likely to lead to the selective deepening of capacities related to production processes, whereas relational GVC in combination with mature ISs may instead lead to the selective deepening of capacities related to products. The research findings also suggest that GVCs and ISs co-evolve in path-dependent processes. As a result, long periods of incrementally deepening the firms’ capacities are intertwined with occasional spurts of discrete upgrading.


Learning Innovation Upgrading Technological capacities Absorptive capacity Emerging economies 


On attend des entreprises qui assurent l’interface avec les chaînes de valeur mondiales (CVM) et les systèmes d’innovation (SI) qu’elles aient un meilleur accès à la connaissance que leurs concurrents, ce qui leur permet ainsi d’apprendre plus rapidement. Cet article évalue si et comment l’apprentissage grace à ce contact permet aux exportateurs d’artisanat des économies émergentes de se mettre à niveau et d’approfondir leurs capacités. L’analyse de trois études de cas nous a permis de conclure que les exportateurs de produits artisanaux approfondissaient progressivement leurs capacités, mais ne les mettaient que rarement à niveau. Les CVM quasi-hiérarchiques combinées avec des systèmes d’innovation immatures risquent d’entraîner un approfondissement sélectif des capacités liées aux processus de production, tandis que les CVM relationnelles associées à des systèmes d’innovation matures peuvent conduire à un approfondissement sélectif des capacités liées aux produits. Les résultats de la recherche suggèrent également que les CVM et les SI co-évoluent selon des processus bien balisés. En conséquence, les longues périodes d’approfondissement progressif des capacités des entreprises sont étroitement liées à de soudaines mises à niveau occasionnelles et discrètes.



This paper went through various radical revisions and is now a completely different paper from the initial draft presented at the Aalborg University workshop ‘Innovation Systems in the Era of Global Value Chains (Copenhagen, 24 April 2017) as part of the preparations for a Special Issue in EJDR, later published in Volume 30, no. 3, July 2018. We wish to thank first of all Saradindu Bhaduri, who initially acted as co-author and later as critical friend providing inspiring comments. We also thank the various reviewers for EJDR and the guest editors of the above-mentioned special issue, especially Roberta Rabellotti who continued providing extensive and excellent comments when it was clear that this paper would not make the special issue deadline. Finally, we thank Raul Ramos and Natalia Lorenzoni for committed and timely support and Rupinder Kaur for assistance in the analysis.


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IHSErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.ISSErasmus University RotterdamDen HaagThe Netherlands

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