Innovation is critical for prosperity across the spectrum

Government, industry and non-profit organisations have equally important roles to play in ensuring a thriving culture of innovation in the country.  This was the consensus that emerged from the Industry Associations Innovation Day held at the Riversands Incubation Hub in Midrand on 25 May 2018.


The event was organised by the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII), under the theme, "Innovation, Government and Industry 4.0: Policies, Measures and Incentives.


CeSTII is a unit at the Human Sciences Research Council, an entity  of the Department of Science and Technology.


Whether you're starting out, scaling up or steaming ahead, innovation is the creative engine that powers the future success of your venture.  It also helps to build communities, cities and countries.


Speakers at the event were unanimous that South Africa's workforce needs upskilling if the country is to participate effectively in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Imraan Patel, DST Deputy Director-General: Socio-economic Innovation Partnerships, said, "Transformative change is central to our discussions of Industry 4.0."


While South Africa has not yet crafted a policy vision for Industry 4.0, Patel noted that President Cyril Ramaphosa had established an advisory council and that the policy vision was being worked on.


The DDG added that the DST was going through the process of drafting a new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation.  "We need to strengthen the national system of innovation. We need a greater level of inclusion in the fruits of the innovation process," Patel said.


"If people around the world don't have access to decent incomes, there is something amiss with the models of disruption."


Nonkululeko Shinga, Chief Director: Innovation and Technology in the Department of Trade and Industry, said the country has brilliant innovators.  "We have the ability to innovate, but the challenges are at the level of absorption of innovation and the uptake of research."


Shinga called for a culture of collaboration and information sharing.  "We often say there is a gap between government and business, and there are trust issues.  But seminars like this help us to identify and share our needs.  Industry needs to input into policy," the Chief Director said.


Patel echoed these sentiments, saying, "We cannot solve our problems alone, and the upcoming investment and jobs summit reflects the need to align".


CeSTII Director, Dr Glenda Kruss, said whereas South Africa aims to invest 1,5% of GDP in research and development (R&D), the latest estimates put this investment at 0,8%.  She said industry associations and companies can use the country's research, development and innovation datasets to inform their strategies and performance plans.


The Innovation Day event also formed part of a drive to promote the Business Innovation Survey 2014-2016, which is currently under way.  The survey will examine the innovation activities of about 5 000 enterprises, from very small to very large, across a range of industries.


In the same way that a company's financial statement is an essential tool for performance monitoring and planning, the Business Innovation Survey delivers a national picture of what innovations are taking place, how they occur at firm-level, and what can be done to enhance innovation capacity.


The South African Innovation Survey 2008, undertaken by CeSTII on behalf of the DST, found that 65,4% of South African businesses were innovation active – a higher percentage than in many European Union countries.  The survey further revealed that the average business was spending 1,7% of its turnover on innovation.


And according to the South African National Survey of Research and Experimental Development, also conducted by CeSTII on behalf of the DST, businesses in the country devoted 82.9% of their R&D investment to natural sciences, technology and engineering research in 2015/16.



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