The South African High Commissioner also highlighted an urgent need to invest in basic infrastructure, such as energy, transportation, irrigation and telecommunications on the Continent.
Moroe also refers to the World Bank report that has estimated the continent will need to invest nearly $93 billion a year in the next decade to meet its infrastructure targets.
First – the definition of innovation itself;Although the focus of his address was on ‘How Nigeria can collaborate with South Africa to build a robust innovation ecosystem in Africa’, the High Commissioner, however anchored it with four key issues about innovation:
Second – the key role players in the innovation space;
Third – the necessity of innovation;
Fourth – the target areas in which African economies should innovate;
He said that under the Africa rising narrative, the continent is poised to witness how technology can transform our lives and revolutionize the continent towards prosperity.
What is our definition or understanding of the word innovation?
“I am certain that many of us will have a variation of responses to this question. Our responses will also depend on our own individual orientation, academic or technical background, and other social aspects that we have been exposed to.
Nevertheless, if we are to succeed in creating a solid innovative environment in which all countries in the continent can prosper, it is critical that we agree on a common understanding of what innovation means to us. If we do not do so, we will run a risk of burying our heads in the sand, fully convinced that we are on the right path of innovation.
“Based on the desktop research I have conducted in the past few days, what is apparent is that innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay. So, the operative words here are ‘ideas or inventions’. Now, in business, innovation often results when ‘ideas’ are applied by the company in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers. Again, an operative word here relates to ‘ideas’.
“Innovation can also be viewed as the application of ‘better solutions’ that meet new requirements, or existing market needs. The term “innovation” can be defined as something ‘original’ and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society.
It therefore follows to ask the question – who are the innovators?
The key role players in the innovation space
“This is a critical question to answer because it is important to know who the innovators or prospective innovators are – and what exactly it is that makes them innovators. This must include the requisite skills and knowledge to innovate.
“It is, therefore, critical that we identify existing gaps within the context of exclusion and inclusion in the innovation space.
Amongst others, I wish to submit, that the youth should be seen as the primary stakeholders in the innovation space. They are still young, energetic and think creatively. They have new ideas geared towards solving the challenges we often face on a day to day basis.
“Our governments in the continent have to consider intensifying the education of the youth in targeted disciplines such as maths, science and engineering, amongst other disciplines necessary for the innovation space. The use of maths and science provides more insights in understanding and approaching problems, by making use of the language of mathematics and physics.
“We also have to pay particular attention to the importance of technical training of the youth and create a new generation of universities that combine research, teaching and product commercialization.
“As the two biggest economies in the continent, both Nigeria and South Africa are set to champion an initiative of creating an ‘African Innovation Hub’, which will not only be of much benefit to the two countries, but the entire continent.
“They could initiate a network of technology-based institutions of higher learning, and create a network of research and technical institutes that can be key in attracting African youth.
Nigeria and South Africa are poised to foster technology-based business incubation due to their capacity and capabilities. There are two areas that require attention. The first is supporting start-ups. There are good examples of this across Africa, which include initiatives such as iHub in Nairobi and InnovateLagos in Nigeria.“The success of these institutes will also inspire traditional universities to adjust their missions, syllabi and teaching methods to become more relevant to the challenge of human improvement and develop more pragmatic curriculums that will respond to our needs.
“The next frontier of policy focus should be scaling up new businesses”.
He further said that innovation in Africa requires a uniform approach for the continent simply because our developmental challenges a similar. “For example – the continent still faces the challenge of power generation, internet access, poor sanitation and water reticulation – the list is endless.
“But in order to fully succeed in this innovation journey, we have to eliminate the existing gender divide to make innovation inclusive. There is a need to ensure that women and girls are a part of this revolution. It is our responsibility to create gender-inclusive technology and have women become part of the design and development of technological solutions. I have no doubt that there is an opportunity for Africa to become a leader in gender equality in the technology sector.
“It is important to showcase women in technology, with the goal of increasing visibility of their achievements in the innovation and technology sector, and as a result, to inspire young girls and attract more women in the technology-related fields.
“Another important sector of society which is often left out in the innovation sector relates to people with disability. There is a need to include the disabled in the innovation value chain in order to contribute in providing solution to problems they also face. Technology works for the disabled.
“They too should have a voice in providing solutions to the hardship they have to endure on a daily basis. They are naturally disabled, but not intellectually and technically incapable or incompetent.
Africa has to invest in the social Innovation and disability empowerment sectors. Many people with different forms of disability continue to contribute in the innovative space, and also become entrepreneurs with incredible contributions to their local communities.
“Their business ideas range from creative solutions for other people with disabilities to businesses that target improvements in healthcare, education, low cost housing, economic relief for people living in rural areas and many more.
Why is innovation necessary?
“Innovation is vital to economic growth and competitiveness. It plays a critical role in job creation through increased productivity, improving the lives of the poor by providing better products and services, generating higher levels of income and returns, attracting investment and building infrastructure. Nowhere is this more relevant, and needed, than in Africa today.
“Conversely, an investment in innovation has the potential to yield a sustainable and ultimately scalable rate of return. Investing in innovation is an absolute and fundamental shift in the continent’s traditional business model. Innovation provides a far greater opportunity to drive more inclusive growth than the traditional resource-based business models.
Innovation is undeniably an important component of economic development but has to be supplemented with enabling policies, relevant skills, and core infrastructure. On a broader scale, innovation should include local content and an element of public-private partnerships. In addition, the private sector needs to play a focused and sustained role in developing the accompanying factors needed for more impactful innovation.
So where should African economies innovate?
“Apart from mobile connectivity with innovations such a MPESA – mobile payments – much of Africa’s strong growth over the last two decades has been driven by the production and sale of natural resources, whether it is oil from Nigeria and Cameroon, copper from Zambia, or iron from Mauritania.
“Professor Calestous Juma (Former Director of the School of Science, Technology and Globalization Project at Harvard Kennedy School, and author of, ’The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa’) reminds us that Africa must shift to technology-driven development by investing in biotechnology, and adapt learnings to other sectors.
He says that, (I quote):
Africa must support tech startups and help them to scale up. In this period of gloomy economic forecasts, Africa’s rise has become a widely discussed international policy topic. Africa’s ability to sustain its current growth will depend largely on how quickly it will be able to shift from reliance on traditional commodity markets to modern economic structures that focus on technology- driven development. The focus on innovation is emerging as a key theme in the Africa Union’s long-term strategy, Agenda 2063.
“It is also critical that we embrace the high-level panel on science, technology and innovation appointed by the African Union, to provide proposals on how the continent can leverage the world’s fund of technological knowledge for economic transformation. This we can do as a collective.
“As a latecomer Africa has the benefit of tapping into vast quantities of technological knowledge available worldwide. The continent’s leapfrogging into the mobile revolution illustrated the power of latecomer advantages. Africa is now the origin of new industries such as mobile money transfer. The mobile revolution is still in its infancy and is already being extended to other sectors such as health, education and agriculture.
“Biotechnology is already a multi-billion dollar industry and the associated technical knowledge can be adapted to other sectors, such as health, industry and environment management. The experience gained in adopting mobile technologies and biotechnology will make it easier for Africa to move into other fields, such as nanotechnology and new materials. The debate over biotechnology is therefore a strategic battle to position Africa as a global player in the field of new technologies.
There is also an urgent need to invest in basic infrastructure, such as energy, transportation, irrigation and telecommunications. The World Bank has estimated that the continent will need to invest nearly $93 billion a year in the next decade to meet its infrastructure targets.
“African countries are already starting to respond to the challenge. For example, South Africa allocated $97 billion to infrastructure projects over a period of three years. This magnitude of investment will require considerable creativity that will involve the participation of sectors such as the military. In addition, it offers a new opportunity for building up the much-needed capacity in engineering by creating new research and technical training institutes to support national infrastructure backbones”.