For innovation-driven economic growth to occur in Africa there needs to be an existing baseline of human capital capable of creating the knowledge required. And to ensure this innovation-driven growth will have a tangible and sustainable impact on society,output and quality from Africa’s knowledge sector must increase. Current performance indicators from the sector speak volumes.
From the diagram above, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) contributes 1% of world knowledge generation and 0.1% of the world’s innovations and inventions, meaning that the ideas being generated within SSA are not being effectively translated into application for use by society. In contrast newly industrialised Asian economies like South Korea jointly generate 6.4% of world knowledge and 4.8% of world innovations and inventions, impacting the world in areas such as, electronics, automobiles, etc. and contribute to leapfrogging their economies. For African growth to be sustainable, the apparent lagging trend in innovation application and practice must be reversed. To do this, innovation, research and knowledge creation capacity must improve.
The same UNESCO report showed SSA increasing knowledge generation output by 63% between 2002 and 2008. This trend is projected to continue in the coming years, showing definitely that not all is bleak for the sub-region. What then is the assurance that this upward trend will continue for the region? The answer lies in improving capacity.
Capacity improvement within Africa’s knowledge sector will need to be addressed on quantitative and qualitative dimensions. Quantitative improvement will ensure the number of actively productive research and academic professionals within the sector continue to increase, as well as ensure these same ones have the right avenues to share their knowledge. Qualitative capacity improvement will involve the ability to evaluate effectively (i) the “developmental potential” of proposed research ideas, (ii) how many of these are aimed at improving society and (iii) how many will actually make it to market.
To be tangible and sustainable, Africa’s innovation-driven growth aspiration will require an approach involving a more systematic support mechanism for all sector participants, one that will allow better interplay between the sector and research infrastructures. This support mechanism will remove redundant systems and focus on people. It will involve changing mindsets and introduce an improved way of working within the sector.
Akada Network is a support and facilitation mechanism that aims to tie it all together.