Tech and Business: How innovation can transform Uganda

Tuesday November 12 2013

By Joyce Kyeyune Tonda

The results of a survey we have been carrying out since last week are surprising. More than 68 per cent of respondents indicated innovation as the topic they were most interested in reading about. Why are we in love with innovation?

There is of course the fact that human nature is in a constant state of flux and there is a constant thirst for change. It isn’t change for change’s sake- it’s the great subconscious belief that things can be better, that somewhere there must be a solution to every problem we are currently facing.

According to INSEAD’s Global Innovation Index 2013, Switzerland ranked first followed by Sweden in second place and the United Kingdom in third place. And aptly called “Innovation Learners”, Uganda and Kenya are both listed as outperforming their peers in emerging economies along with countries like India and China.

The countries that rank at the top of innovation are also among the most developed nations.

Brian Lanvin commenting on the results states: “Beyond the obvious ingredients for innovation: public, private investment, education and R&D, there is an ecosystem that needs to be built around factors that may be more difficult to define and measure, which have to do with the fact that innovation is not just the result of innovation, but it’s also a mindset.”

Uganda, and generally East Africa, has had its fair share of innovation-thus the rise of innovation hubs in the region. However, Uganda seems to be facing the same problem that many emerging economies like India are now facing- “stagnancy”. In other words, all the innovation seems to be leading to nowhere. Why? It all goes back to the collective thinking of a nation.


How we can make innovation work for us
First, we must believe that innovation is a key aspect of development. However, more importantly, there must be sustained investment to encourage innovation. The top innovative countries have innovation programmes with specific budgets set aside to fund innovative developments.

But how do poorer countries create funds for innovation when they can barely provide clean safe water to citizens?

Innovation must be encouraged in lieu of top students being plastered in newspapers annually. For example while children tend to be curious inventors, this skill is not encouraged in our primary schools, rather the focus is on who did their arithmetic perfectly or read a text fluently.

However, how does this acquired knowledge translate into innovation? There is a flawed belief that innovation starts after university, whereas global studies have shown that innovation starts young-at high school.

Until our curricula starts to become more challenging (beyond maths and English) and focuses on fostering innovation (products of knowledge) all the science laboratories and all the industries will ultimately benefit a lucky few.

In many countries today, governments in collaboration with industry are building innovation parks where youth can go and experiment-ultimately these spark ideas that will become gems that will become the drivers of innovation.

The author is the Managing Editor Enterprise Technology and Director, The Knowledge Management