Science and technology education in its basic form is also changing. Software development (aka coding) is being simplified consistently thanks to investment in R&D projects that creates easy to use environment from where we now build solutions. The effort required to write software when you had to type out every BASIC, PASCAL or COBOL line of codes is much more than what it takes to complete a fully functioning and life-changing software today. Only a few now dream to be computer scientists while many are picking up software development skills even from their mobile phones.
It is an exciting but troubling time. There is a sense that the gap amongst nations in their ability to create value from science and technology is reducing. This assumption is the outcome of our new found excitement for entrepreneurship and value creation. Very minimal attention is being paid to the source of real value — what’s driving affordable computing power? On what protocols and platforms are pervasive technologies being built? What engine drives our ability to collect the data that smart entrepreneurs put to creative use? What is powering Blockchain, IoT and many of the exciting promises technology offers our future?
A new world is here! We all recognise this new world but falsely believe we are participants in its evolution. Those who shape and lead this new world are investing in the discovery and development of its core structure. These are the nations with clear agenda and appreciation of how deeply technology will continue to polarise the share of modern-day sources of competitiveness. Africa has been plagued with many social challenges thanks to our negligence of the importance of knowledge creation and application; the impact of this current development will, however, be dire.
Entrepreneurship — the Devil
The excitement we place on our shining lights that are building exceptional products powered by modern-day technologies in Africa is contagious. Increasingly, we can now celebrate young innovators who are doing their utmost best to create value through technology and attract resources to grow their businesses. They create jobs and breed hope amongst the youth. The future is bright — perhaps we’ll be able to diversify our economy while participating in the digital economy.
The entrepreneurship movement is indeed an exciting one, but we have to be conscious of its ability to distract and give false hope.Technological advancement is crucial for economic development, and value creation from S&T is indeed incomplete until entrepreneurs appropriate the outcomes. However, the form and shape of value are changing and we’ll only be able to create within the scope and boundaries dictated by those who invest in the foundation and systems we build on.
Entrepreneurship — the Validation
Technology entrepreneurship is indeed not the devil but reliable source of validation. There has been a tremendous push for Africa to invest and participate in knowledge generation and application with little success. Despite African researchers’ academic contribution to knowledge creation world over, there is little to no systems in most African countries to encourage local knowledge generation and application. One can partly blame this lack of interest on the typical long journey it takes for technological breakthroughs to emanate from investment in R&D. With many competing demands for our resources — poverty, public health, education, infrastructure, corruption and much more; investment in R&D/technology adoption and adaptation must be a hard sell.
The current wave of value coming out of technology companies is a strong validation for how investment in science and technology can lead to a better Africa. If there was ever a lack of understanding of the importance of investment in R&D (which I doubt), the smart application of technology in media, financial services, commerce, healthcare, agriculture and many important facets of our economy is a strong demonstration of possible ROI from a carefully developed and executed Science and Technology plan.
Building the Ecosystem of the Future; TODAY
As we continue to invest in building the pool of software talent and technology entrepreneurs in Africa, we must not fail to take a systemic approach. An approach that places strategic investment in Research & Development at the heart of how we engage and participate in the new world. I find it strange that a continent that runs mainly on mobile technology has no known Mobile Technology Centre of Excellence. IoT thrives on mobility, we are a mobile-first nation, yet we have little to no investment in the future of IoT. We are merely waiting to buy the solutions once created elsewhere.
Talent: our approach to talent development shouldn’t only focus on supplying coders to the world but building world-class engineers whose contribution will help alleviate poverty and create opportunities for wealth creation. There is an urgent need for us to see our technical talent needs beyond software developers.
Infrastructure: the appalling state of infrastructure on the continent provides us with a unique opportunity to invest in future-proof infrastructure. What we build today should not only meet our current needs but also support our ambition and future needs.
Funding: as we fund and allocate resources to our pressing needs today, we must also put resources into activities that explore a better future for our nations. We cannot afford to continuously play catch-up hence the need to fund and accelerate the growth of our economy through knowledge creation and application.
Policy: creating an enabling environment for innovation to thrive requires forward-looking rules and regulations. We should endeavour always to rethink and repurpose our systems to accommodate our changing world but also actively protect the rights of our people.
We live in an increasingly borderless world, and our future will not only be determined by our actions and interests but those of the world at large. To survive and compete, we’ll need to be purposeful!
As Ory Okolloh always say, “we cannot ‘entrepreneur’ our way out of bad structure” but I strongly believe we can create and invest in platforms that unleash the creativity and talent of our people to contribute to making our world a lot better!
I was inspired to pen this thought after watching the “Tribute to OR Tambo” on SAA flight to Johannesburg.