Botswana Enjoys a Healthy National Conversation on the National Innovation Agenda
By: Tigele Mokobi
What a week it has been! A week in which the media remained dutiful to its role as a critical development partner in the national development pursuit of a robust national innovation ecosystem. Attention to the role the media plays in engendering a culture of innovation was prompted by concerns raised by the Managing Director of InnoLead Consulting, Oabona Kgengwenyane who lamented the absence of a vibrant national innovation culture.
As a practitioner in the innovation space and working closely with the media, I was interested to know how the media fared in its support of efforts towards the creation of a national innovation culture. Culture is the social behaviour and norms found in human societies and influence to such behaviour is achieved in a multi-pronged approach that is premised on solid structural and strategic frameworks that stimulate, support and grow the requisite ethos.
This process does not occur in a vacuum, it is supported by the agenda setting principle of the media which not only informs but also persuades, encourages and even convinces its audience to adopt particular viewpoints and attitudes to developmental plans or goals. Barbra Jansen (2015) states that, “Information is a critical resource that is essential for the knowledge-based economy of the Information Age. It is a social asset whose acquisition enables one to form intelligent opinions and a prerequisite for the development of any individual or organization.”
She goes on to say, “The amount of attention given to an issue in the press affects the level of importance assigned to that issue by the mass media audience. Information therefore is widely regarded as the most democratic form of power for social change, and power in the politics and economies of the future will flow to those who have the best information.”
It is with this background that I took a cursory look at the past weeks media coverage on Science, Technology and Innovation and chronicle my observations below:
Earlier in the week, the Managing Director of InnoLead Consulting, Oabona Kgengwenyane had fired the first salvo with a clarion call for an, “urgent need to create an innovation culture in Botswana.” Writing in the company’s official blog, Kgengwenyane calls for the creation of a robust national innovation system that ensures that research and development programmes take shape, patents are produced locally and that we become less a nation of ‘operators’ and become creators. He warns that, “Countries that do not invest in the next wave technologies will continue lingering at the bottom of the economic scales.”
Kgengwenyane’s co-instigator in this matter is European Union (EU) University Teacher Development Advisor, Professor Roy Du Pre. In his address to delegates at the Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) congress in Palapye Du Pre challenged Botswana to move fast to adopt technology and stimulate economic growth. He said, “Botswana is so 1960 and its high time to bring in capital and technology. We are 20 – 25 years from a knowledge economy. Knowledge creation and the application of knowledge is central to the economic growth in any economy today.”
Establishment of Botswana’s first Science and Technology Park
Also in the past week, Director ICT and Marketing at Botswana Innovation Hub, Tshepo Tsheko was asked for a radio interview by the SABC’s Channel Africa Radio for its Change Your Game programme. Tsheko was asked to give a background on the establishment of Botswana Innovation Hub and he explained that Botswana Innovation Hub was established as one of the suite of institutions set up by the Government of Botswana to create and nurture a national innovation ecosystem.
He said, “The Government established Botswana Innovation Hub as an innovative and networked company that promotes technology, entrepreneurship and commercialisation on a purpose built Science and Technology Park. The company has been set up as a product of the National Excellence Strategy of 2008 which proposes a three-pronged national strategic goal; being economic diversification, job creation, and moving the country towards a knowledge-based economy.”
Tsheko went on to state that, Botswana Innovation Hub has adopted a trident approach (Also known at the Triple Helix System of innovation) to the development of a national innovation ecosystem that supports its development drive of transforming the country’s economy from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. The key players in this approach are government which provides the necessary legislative framework, academic and research based institutions for their research output and business for the commercialisation of the research.
Still in the past week, the Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr Alfred Madigele launched the Research, Science and Technology and Innovation (RSTI) Advisory Committee. The committee is expected to take the forefront in advising and crafting of guidelines and implementation frameworks of the national innovation agenda. “This is expected to contribute towards making Botswana a vibrant technology driven economy through technological development, adaptation, transfer and innovation,” declared Dr Madigele.
His counterpart at the Ministry of Basic Education, Unity Dow also contributed to the national discourse on Science, Technology and Innovation when she announced the use of cell phones and other handheld mobile devices as teaching aids in government schools. The new development lays the foundation for the digital transformation of the country’s education system and creation of a vibrant national innovation ecosystem.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is universally recognised for its contribution to universal access to education, equity, quality learning and teaching, teacher’s professional development and more efficient education management, governance and administration. ICT is one of the focal sectors of Botswana Innovation Hub whose mandate is to work with other institutions to facilitate the creation of a national innovation ecosystem that will facilitate the country’s transition from a resource‐based economy to a knowledge‐based economy.
However, while the country is facilitating the uptake of mobile data services and smart devices to foster innovation, fuel the economy and transform the lives of Batswana, serious concerns about an ever increasing cyber threat have emerged. The Sunday Standard newspaper reports that, “A report by the African Union Commission has confirmed earlier findings that Botswana is the cybercrime capital of Africa.” The report revealed that in 2016, a total of 37,889 cyber-attacks originated from Botswana which accounted for 3% of all cyber-attacks in the continent, Botswana was ranked 8th position among Africa’s 10 biggest sources of cyber attacks.
Announcing an upcoming conference to tackle cybercrime, writer, Laurie Pieters-James said, “With cybercrime on the rise worldwide, Botswana has not escaped unscathed. The use of technology to commit malicious acts is rampant and on the increase as hackers and opportunists alike gear up to make an illicit buck.” The conference which is co-hosted by the African Cyber Security (ACS) and Botswana Innovation Hub seeks to establish a multi-stakeholder consortium that brings together government, industry and academia interests in an effort to improve the state of cyber security on both a domestic and international level. Speakers at the conference will address pressing cyber issues, including policy development and implementation, cyber awareness, internal and external threats, risk assessment, the importance of training, technical solutions, and the effective investigation and successful prosecution of cybercrime.
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
The Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) and Botswana Innovation Hub announced a partnership which has provided a P3 million sponsorship for the commercialisation of Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) based products. SANBio is a shared biosciences research, development and innovation platform for working collaboratively to address some of Southern Africa’s key biosciences issues in health, nutrition and health-related intervention areas such as agriculture and environment.
The Network was established in 2005 under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), as one of the five networks established under the African Biosciences Initiative (ABI), to cover the SADC region. The platform provides access to world-class laboratories for African and international scientists conducting research on African biosciences challenges. SANBio’s work focuses on four areas, namely agriculture, health, nutrition and livestock.
The conversation on the creation of an innovation culture would not be complete without discussion on funding. Botswana currently spends 0.25% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on research and development, this is well below the recommended 3% trajectory for developing countries. The past week’s edition of the Sunday Standard carries a commentary that disapproves the current innovation funding model. The papers states that a decision by Government to create Botswana Innovation Hub was a well thought out one, if only it was implemented fully and with a sufficient budget.
The commentary states that Governments’ efforts to inspire a new, more entrepreneurial business culture will fall short without fundamental funding to go with it. It goes on to recommend that, “The current budget should be more than tripled and have leadership therein imbued with the importance of the space they occupy in the overall developmental vison of the country.”
In the past month, Botswana Innovation Hub in conjunction with the Israel Innovation Authority hosted an information sharing workshop as part of its initiative to facilitate the roll out of the Innovation Fund and broaden capacity on innovation funding models and activities. The proposed Botswana Innovation Fund is expected to provide access to seed finance for qualifying local technology-oriented businesses to assist in their technology commercialisation and innovation support.
Building Creative and Vibrant Networks that Add Value to the Country’s Innovation Agenda
Botswana Innovation Hub entered into a partnership with The De Beers Group of Companies to collaborate with Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) on a three year partnership to empower young, aspiring entrepreneurs and established business owners in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The partnership which is headquaretered at Botswana Innovation Hub will deliver two programmes in 2018 called Go-To-Market and Stanford Seed Transformation.
Go-To-Market programme unearths aspiring technology entrepreneurs and launches them on the global market while the Seed Transformation programme provides management training, leadership team workshops and networking support to assist Southern African leaders to grow their businesses, create jobs and help their regions to greater economic diversity and prosperity.
The above sample demonstrates a vibrant national conversation on the national innovation agenda and the critical role the media plays in focusing attention on the development of a lively national innovation culture. Such a culture will propel this country to the next level of human development which is the knowledge-based economy.