Using innovation as a key catalyst to develop economies

Gugu Cele | CNBC Africa

Innovation is a key catalyst to enhance, develop and grow economies and South Africa is not exception. These were some of the sentiments that were shared at the 2017 Symposium on Science Technology and Innovation in Tshwane.

The event, hosted by the National Advisory Council on Innovation with the support of the Department of Science and Technology, saw the release of the Indicators for Sustainable and Inclusive Socioeconomic development.

These indicators aid government, business and civil society to understand the current threats opportunities that exists within South Africa’s innovation landscape.

Key highlights from the 2016 Science, Technology and Innovation indicators reveal that South Africa has found itself making vast strides in creating an enabling environment for innovation development in the country.

Progress has been made with regard to education in encouraging learners to take on maths and science; some pressures continue to be felt regarding the enrolment levels of students at SET and institutions of higher learning. This has increased from 28.7% in 2005 to 29.9% in 2015.

In a panel discussion which was held as a highlight of the event, Mr Sizwe Nxasana, Chairman of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) said education systems in South Africa need to be enhanced. “Innovation and disruptive thinking needs to be taught at the foundation phase of our schooling system. New  and effective,  models also need to be explored and implemented.”

Mr Imraan Patel, Deputy Director-General at the Department of Science and Technology of the Department of Science and Technology agrees that education is a key enabler we also need to ensure that there is clear cohesiveness between the public and private sector within the innovation space. “We are aware that we can’t go it alone, as such government provides incentives and key tools to allow this partnership to take place. This has also yielded great results thus far”

South Africa’s progress in the innovation space is measured in a multi-pronged approach; as a result its outcomes also go hand in hand with the objectives of the national development plan.

Economist and NACI council member, Dr Azar Jammine mentioned that whilst, the NDP highlights growth objectives of 5% per annum, South Africa has experienced declined levels of foreign direct investment due to subdued levels of growth. South Africa saw FDI flows which accounted for 0.56% of GDP in 2016.

Dr Sébastien Dessus, Program Leader at The World Bank followed this up with insight on the registration of patents, which is traditionally used as a measure of innovation in South Africa. “Whilst IP registrations are improving in South Africa, majority are from private institutions. This needs to change and the global system opens up.”

With the current economic trajectory of South Africa, great potential still exists for the country to harness additional support to enhance levels of innovation in order to make a strong economic contribution for society as a whole.

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