Madigele launches Innovation Advisory Committee

SHARE   |   Monday, 14 August 2017   |   By Dr Alfred Madigele
Madigele launches Innovation Advisory Committee

It gives me great delight to be launching the Research, Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Committee for the implementation of the Research, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy. The country is striving to diversify its economy from reliance on minerals, especially diamond. We remain indebted as a country to our natural resources’ contribution to our initial economic growth. However, time is ripe for discovery of new sources of revenue with a clear conscious mind that natural resources are not forever. It is accepted as international best practice for governments to have advisory bodies that interact with government at the highest level to guide and advice on integration of global trends, comparative advantage and market demands in setting up national Research, Science and Technology priorities for efficient use of the limited resources.  This practice assists with ensuring value for investment in Research, Development and Innovation. Most Governments globally have also set up ministries responsible for the overall policy and strategy formulation, funding and coordination of research, science, technology and innovation. You will recall from last year’s reorganization of Ministries that the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology was assigned the responsibility to transform Botswana from a resource based economy to “A Knowledge led Economy”. My Ministry embraced this task with aplomb and tenacity because of the opportunity to set the country on a path to catch up with the leading nations of the world on innovation. My Ministry is committed to the transformation of the science and technology landscape in Botswana. This will be attained through diverse strategies, including partnerships amongst research organisations and universities. In the country there are some structures for advising on how to leverage the capabilities of RSTI in driving the country’s social and economic development. For example, the Economic Diversification Drive Policy and Strategy raise a concern that although Botswana has experienced four decades of rapid economic growth, the economy continues to be less diversified and driven by primary products of diamonds, copper/nickel and beef, with a high import bill. The EDD Strategy therefore envisages achievement of economic diversification through implementation of the EDD Technology Development, Innovation and Transfer Thematic Area.  This is expected to make Botswana a vibrant technology driven economy through technological development, adaptation, transfer and innovation. These are core elements for competitiveness in the globalized economic environment. In addition, through research and development, EDD strategic initiatives would inform business decisions based on needs-based research studies and reliable economic data.

In addition, the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) has set up a Research, Innovation, Science & Technology Sector Committee which seeks to develop and create, a fully functional national RIST human resource development system where concept and scope of education, innovation and science are integrated leading to enhanced innovation and entrepreneurship. The HRDC’s overall goal is to develop a Human Resource Development plan which addresses the Research, Innovation, Science & Technology needs of all other sectors. Amongst others, the RIST Sector Committee seeks to enhance the relevance and impact of the human resource development programme of activities for strengthening research and innovation in the country. Despite these positive developments, the science and technology landscape in Botswana is still fragmented and uncoordinated. This is evident from the operations of line ministries, academia and research institutions mandated to carry out research. They could all be doing a good work on their own, but we are still to witness a whole of Government approach to RSTI. This situation creates risk of duplication of research efforts, inefficiencies that yield no return on investment in research and negligible contribution to economic growth. In addition, priority setting for public investment in STI and the identification of the focus areas has remained largely unattended. Furthermore, engagement strategies for stakeholders, ranging from the research community, funding agencies, business, and civil society to regional and local governments in policy making and implementation have persistently been ineffective. The need for a coordinating mechanism that would cut across developmental interests and integrate innovation concerns into the whole government is necessary now than ever before. As a Ministry we need to engage on a regular basis with key drivers in our national system of innovation to get advice on how to guide the national agenda on research development and innovation as well as direct implementation of the RSTI policy to ensure impact and achievement of goals. This also relates to identification of national priorities for research & development and to guide the development of funding strategies to adequately implement the research & development and innovation agenda. It is my expectation that a better RSTI coordination approach would assist to align research activities and also monitor the impact of implementation of the policy as well as assess its relevance to global trends with time. The expectation is to have dovetailing of the structures to create a synergised system.It has not been easy to establish the recommended structures, but I took a deliberate step to establish a RSTI Advisory committee to provide the necessary guidance and direction. It is for this reason that my Ministry today is launching the Research Science Technology and Innovation Advisory Committee in order to break the vicious cycle of fragmentation and segmentation, undue competition for funding from government resulting in meagre fund allocation for research by line ministries and other publicly funded institutions. 

The Committee which will be chaired by the Permanent Secretary- Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology will have representation from other ministries such as that of Basic Education, Agricultural Development and Food Security, as well as from Business Botswana, Statistics Botswana, Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation, Botswana Innovation Hub, Botswana International University of Science and Technology, University of Botswana, National Food technology Research Centre, Botswana Vaccine Institute, Botswana Geo-Science Institute, Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Botswana Harvard Aids Institute Partnership, Okavango Research Institute and two (2) independent Professionals drawn from members of the public. I urge the members of the RSTI Advisory Committee to objectively deliberate the issues at hand without favour or pulling to one side. The Government of Botswana recognises the central role played by Research Science, Technology Innovation in propelling socio-economic growth, and implements the Research Science Technology and Innovation (RSTI) Policy of 2012. The main goals of the RSTI Policy are to amongst others; increase national capacity for economic growth through research, infusion of indigenous knowledge into the national Research and Development agenda, innovation and sustainable technology development, use and application of science and technology to improve quality of life as well as to increase national human resource capacity in research, science, technology and innovation. I note with concern, that despite concerted efforts by the Government, in consultation with stakeholders, to provide inclusive education and generate requisite skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and Mathematics, the enrolment of students in our tertiary institutions is unsatisfactory. Botswana’s innovation capability has consecutively been placed in the lowest ranges on global scale. According to the 2016/2017 World Economic Forum report, out of 138 countries our country ranked 87 and 107 for capacity to innovate and availability of scientists/ engineers respectively. Similarly, a recent survey, undertaken by the Human Resource Development Council in collaboration with Statistics Botswana in 2016, corroborates that the enrolment of students in Engineering, Manufacturing, Construction and Sciences in the country amounted to 26% of total enrolment in our tertiary institutions that year. Engineers and scientists are the engines of research and innovation, and these figures demonstrate minimal Research, Development and Innovation intensity in the country. Without producing sufficient numbers of graduates in pure sciences, engineering and mathematics, the country cannot expect a turn-around in research and innovation. There is therefore, a dire need to improve pass rates at lower levels in Mathematics and Sciences in order to increase student’s confidence in choosing pure sciences, engineering and mathematics at tertiary level. I am personally concerned at the generally low profile on RSTI in this country. I believe we can do better in the build-up towards the knowledge-led economy. Knowledge derived from research and development is globally acknowledged as a leading factor of production that ensures economic success. As demonstrated by countries which invest heavily in human capital development, even though they have few natural resources, their knowledge has been their major trading commodity that has been translated into new goods and services of great international value. Our indigenous knowledge has provided health services, nutrition, water, economic and environmental sustainability in times past, and is still as resourceful now, as it was then. Therefore, indigenous knowledge should be harnessed and utilised to help develop niche products from our market.  

This is part of Dr Alfred Madigele – the Minister of Tertiary Education – speech at the launch of the Research, Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Committee.