The first day of the inaugural Africa Innovation Summit featured a plenary session on Best Practices in Innovation policymaking. It was a sensible place to start. But some of us have been talking about innovation in
In 1998 the
As chair of the session, and with that sobering statistic in mind, I invited the panel to a conversation which I hoped would be genuinely catalytic.
What followed was a discussion which challenged a few key assumptions, put forward some concrete suggestions and presented some new paradigms for looking at innovation. The main points I noted were as follows:
Invest in potential.
Encourage the protection of ideas. Both Abiodun and Fernando dos Santos, director general of the
However it was clear that setting up an office is not enough.
Innovators need to commercialise their ideas. This means cultivating a healthy private sector and supporting access to capital. William Asiko, CEO of the Investment Climate Facility, unsurprisingly was particularly outspoken about this but his basic logic - that innovation needs to be rewarded - is hard to argue with.
Encourage demand-led innovation. Most firms look to their customers to drive their innovation efforts and the big success stories which have changed our lives have endured because they added value where there was an existing need. This approach to innovation is to be encouraged.
There is no silver bullet but there are a set of conditions. Ultimately, all the panellists recognised that the drive for innovation depends on context because there is no single intervention or framework that could be applied mechanically across all 54 states in
Innovative policy is about process, not product. To foster innovation, a long-term investment plan is essential; political parties should be careful of playing political football here. Also policies need to be integrated, otherwise they will undermine each other. For instance, plans for a nanotech industry need to consider not only trade and customs but education as well.
There were also a couple of challenges to assumptions, which with some creative thinking, might turn into opportunities.
How do traditional ideas of commercialisation play out in an era of open access and the age of free apps? Here there is the possibility for
But are we using the term 'innovation' so loosely and to describe so many processes - technical and social innovations, inventions and policies - that it is difficult to be concrete about what needs to be done? The OECD has already attempted elsewhere to define these different facets of innovation.
But it is also important to understand how individual governments understand them. If we can do that, it will go some way to answering the question of how best to foster innovation. We must remember, of course, that sometimes the answer is to keep out of the way.
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