We started this conversation two blog posts ago with How To Make Africa More Innovative and Entrepreneurial – Part I. We followed that with How To Make Africa More Innovative and Entrepreneurial – Part II – Lessons from The Global Innovation Index 2011.
Today, we will continue plowing through the Global Innovation Index 2011 (GII 2011) for lessons that one could reasonably expect to see adapted for Africa’s unique circumstances. As I have already suggested, read the report for yourself. I cannot do it justice in the framework of a blog-post.
The report devotes an entire chapter to public-private partnerships, and provides examples of public-private partnerships that date as far back as the 4th century BC. There are examples of PPPs being used to accomplish public-private goals in East Africa as well as in Egypt[i].
To quote from GII 2011 on PPPs[ii]:
The term ‘public-private partnership’ (PPP) describes a relationship in which public and private resources are blended to achieve a goal or set of goals judged to be mutually beneficial to both the private entity and to the public.
However, after reading the chapter I came away with two impressions:
- First, African countries do not use PPPs as much as they could or should to advance national and transcontinental development.
- Second, the longer Africa’s national governments and her people allow PPPs to remain the exception rather than the norm the more tedious the task of driving innovation across multiple economic sectors across the continent becomes.
In chapter 3, GII 2011 looks at Saudi Arabia’s efforts to reshape its economy from one that is heavily dependent on petroleum and crude oil exports to a more industrialized and diversified economy based on its National Plan for Science Technology and Innovation (NPSTI 2010 – 2025). One need not think long or hard to recognize why Saudi Arabia’s example is one African political and business leaders might want to observe keenly. Reading about what is happening in Saudi Arabia leads me to conclude that:
- Some African countries need to set a medium term goal of becoming global science and technology supply countries – countries where multinational enterprises choose to locate their offshore research and development centers. Why? This is an acknowledged means of causing a diffusion of technology between companies and regions.
- African institutions of higher education must train and graduate more scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technologists at the Masters and PhD level. Undergraduate students in these fields must become more involved in academic and industrial research in order to build a human resource base that attracts foreign direct investment in research and development.
- National and multi-national PPPs should be used to encourage industry-university collaborations aimed at taking innovations dreamt up within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics departments of African universities and transforming them into viable commercial products developed, manufactured and sold in national, regional and transcontinental markets[iii].
- Innovation and entrepreneurship in African countries will remain stillborn as long as potential entrepreneurs and investors feel they lack legal recourse to protect their investments of time and money in developing and acquiring intellectual and physical property.
In chapter 7, GII 2011 looks at India’s experience shaping a national innovation system. This example too is instructive for Africa’s political and business leaders. To quote from the chapter:
So what lessons can one take from India’s experience?
- African countries must identify and establish an innovation paradigm that is in contrast to the dominant innovation paradigm. India has developed an innovation paradigm that focuses on the production of solutions to pervasive problems in a manner that makes such solutions affordable and accessible to people with extremely low incomes – people at the “bottom of the pyramid.”
- Where it is possible, African countries must identify and nurture their own pockets of excellence with a view to stimulating the growth of a robust innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem around these pockets of excellence and enabling private firms within that ecosystem compete and conduct business internationally.
- African countries need to develop their own versions of the following programs which India’s Department of Science and Technology has been pursuing:
- Home Grown Technology – encouraging small and medium sized enterprises to carry out significant innovations at the pilot production level.
- ‘Technopreneur’ Promotion – encouraging Indian innovators to become technology-based entrepreneurs.
- Technology Refinement & Marketing – supporting Indian innovation by pushing innovative technologies from prototype to viable commercial product.
- A strong intellectual property rights framework will be necessary both at national and transcontinental levels if African companies are to develop and sustain a competitive advantage.
The chapter on India ends with a discussion of the challenges India faces in her bid to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. You might recognize these problems as very similar to the problems present in almost every African country as well.
- Inertia – among political and business leaders.
- Opacity – lack of transparency in the political environment, and a system plagued with innumerable bureaucratic hurdles.
- Decay – rural and urban infrastructure that simply cannot support the ambition of building a more innovative and entrepreneurial economy.
GII 2011 does not mention corruption or unacceptably low educational standards as challenges facing India. I would suggest they pose real challenges in many African countries – at the very least in both Ghana and Nigeria, where I grew up.
I had hoped to wrap up this series with today’s post. But, sleep has now come calling, and I’d like to be awake when I set out on my 90-minute drive to work in roughly 5 hours from now. Let’s talk again in two weeks. On deck? We’ll wrap things up, connect a few dots and preview some coming attractions.
[i] The Eastern African Submarine Cable System and Egypt Smart Village are the two examples. Both are focused on the ICT sector.
[ii] Any mistakes in quoting from GII 2011 are entirely mine.