A lack of in­no­va­tion cul­ture in SA

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Wes­ley Diphoko

AC­CORD­ING to the Global In­no­va­tion In­dex on In­no­va­tion, South Africa is ranked No 97 in In­no­va­tion. The in­dex mea­sures the in­no­va­tion per­for­mance of 127 economies. There are cou­ple of con­tribut­ing fac­tors to the state of in­no­va­tion in South Africa and one of them is re­lated to the na­ture of ed­u­ca­tion and the lack of in­no­va­tion cul­ture across the board.

Al­though South Africa spends the largest per­cent­age of its bud­get on ed­u­ca­tion the re­turn on in­vest­ment is not the same.

To im­prove in­no­va­tion, there’s a need to pay an over zeal­ous at­ten­tion to the na­ture of ed­u­ca­tion and sup­port for in­no­va­tion cul­ture. The view that South Africa is the tough­est place to be an in­no­va­tor has led some to won­der, what can be done to make it an in­no­va­tion nation.

There are nu­mer­ous in­ter­ven­tions re­quired to make South Africa a Tech in­no­va­tion and start-up nation. Ed­u­ca­tion is one such in­ter­ven­tion and an­other is the cre­ation of a tech-in­no­va­tion spe­cial eco­nomic zone.

No form of skills

A ma­tric­u­lant in South Africa spends 12 years or more at school, but walks out of school with no form of skills or abil­ity to earn a liv­ing. The same is true for univer­sity grad­u­ates, who in some in­stances spend five years in an aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion and walk out with no form of prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence to be use­ful in the econ­omy.

Aca­demics would ar­gue that aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions are not de­signed to en­able people to be eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive. This is the rea­son why South Africa is not yet an in­no­va­tion nation. Ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions are not de­signed to de­velop in­no­va­tive and eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive cit­i­zens.

There’s a need to create a train­ing in­sti­tu­tion for start-ups where can­di­dates walk in with a busi­ness idea and walk out with an op­er­a­tional busi­ness. Such a school can de­velop en­trepreneurs at a young age (school go­ing age). In­stead of grant­ing bur­saries, such an in­sti­tu­tion would have to fund its grad­u­ates to start busi­nesses.

Ed­u­ca­tors in such an in­sti­tu­tion would have to be drawn from en­trepreneurs and ex­pe­ri­enced busi­ness people. With valu­able in­sights they can be more use­ful in pre­par­ing young en­trepreneurs to run their own busi­nesses.

En­trepreneurs and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists can be the first group of in­vestors into grad­u­ate busi­nesses in­stead of tra­di­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. Each year the start-up school can de­velop 100 or more en­trepreneurs with new busi­nesses that can also form part of men­tor­ship pro­gramme to fu­ture stu­dents.

Once grad­u­ated these start-ups need to be lo­cated in what I would call In­no­va­tion-Free Eco­nomic Zones.

In the start-up world it’s a known fact that in the first three years a start-up is likely to die due to chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with start­ing a busi­ness in South Africa.

To protect great in­no­va­tions from dis­ap­pear­ing due to govern­ment red tape and start-up chal­lenges a ded­i­cated safe en­vi­ron­ment is re­quired. Tech­nol­ogy-Free Eco­nomic Zones can become such en­vi­ron­ments where in­no­va­tors’ prod­ucts and ser­vices can be al­lowed to flour­ish, where regulation such as li­cences and taxes can be re­laxed un­til the start-up is ready to en­ter the real econ­omy.

These zones would be like Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zones, ge­o­graph­i­cally des­ig­nated ar­eas of a coun­try set aside for specif­i­cally tar­geted eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties, sup­ported through spe­cial ar­range­ments and sys­tems that are of­ten dif­fer­ent from those that ap­ply in the rest of the coun­try.

This ap­proach could be ap­plied to a com­pany like Uber by lo­cat­ing it ini­tially in a Free Eco­nomic Zone and al­low­ing it to op­er­ate, with­out re­quir­ing it to fol­low sim­i­lar pro­cesses for taxi op­er­a­tors. Once its eco­nom­i­cal im­pact had been demon­strated and the con­cept proved it would then en­ter the broader econ­omy and be sub­ject to tax­a­tion and leg­is­la­tion.

Many in­no­va­tions have died due tough hur­dles that in­no­va­tors have had to over­come in or­der to be ac­cept­able. One comes to mind by the founder of Iyeza Ex­press, a medicine de­liv­ery (by bi­cy­cle in town­ships) con­cept by Sizwe Nz­ima. He was pre­vented from run­ning the busi­ness be­cause he was not li­censed to de­liver medicine. Where is Iyeza Ex­press to­day?

The In­fonomist will work to­wards doc­u­ment­ing these in­no­va­tors to en­sure that they do not die be­cause they are too ad­vanced for cur­rent rules.

In South Africa we face ab­nor­mally high un­em­ploy­ment rates. Such a chal­lenge calls for a dif­fer­ent ap­proach. Cur­rent meth­ods are not work­ing. Wes­ley Diphoko is the On­line Editor for Busi­ness Re­port and head of In­de­pen­dent Me­dia’s Dig­i­tal Lab.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.