Programme director

Mr Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group

Dr Bekele-Thomas

Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary General UNCTAD

Young Entrepreneurs who have joined us today

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen


I would like to thank the organizers of the technopreneur event most sincerely for inviting me to participate in this event this afternoon. I would also like to thank Mr Jack Ma for the work that he is doing with young entrepreneurs across the African continent.

Firstly, I would like to convey apologies from HE Mr Cyril Ramaphosa the president of South Africa for his inability to attend the gathering today. He would have liked to be here but he could not as he is chairing the Cabinet Lekgotla but he sends he well wishes for the event.

I am very encouraged to see in the audience a great number of women from all over the continent of Africa who are taking up entrepreneurship and those who are making success of their businesses. As many in the audience would know, we in South Africa are celebrating the centenary year of Mama Albertina Sisulu together with that of our Icon Madiba. Mama Sisulu is one was a leading figure in our struggle in fighting for human rights for all but in particular she carried forward the struggle for women emancipation. As we celebrate Mama Sisulu's life and her outstanding contribution to the cause of freedom and democracy, we need to embolden our young women entrepreneurs to take advantage of opportunities available in our national system of innovation, so that they too can make an impact in our society as we continue to address the interlinked challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. 

It can almost be said without fear of contradiction that innovation coupled with entrepreneurship is the engine of growth of any modern economy. This is especially true in the era of a digital economy. Technology is advancing very rapidly and it is a revolution that will be very disruptive to societies. This is because the rapid advancement of technology is not always matched by the rapid advancement of skills and it is evident now with the rapid development of technologies such as artificial intelligence, Big data analytics and many other new technologies, that societies will take time to adjust to these developments. Entrepreneurs are very critical in bridging the gap technological developments and societal change in that they are to identify ways in which these technologies can be used to benefit communities.

As leaders in government it is our role to ensure that we create an environment in which entrepreneurs can emerge and thrive. Infrastructure, Particularly broadband infrastructure, is very important for the digital economy. It is true that half of the world’s population does not have access to broadband let alone connectivity and this is particularly pronounced in the countries of the global south. This means that half of the world’s population is not participating fully in the modern economy. The emerging industrial revolution which will affect and change the whole world demands that we invest in ICT infrastructure otherwise we will be spectators of this industrial revolution not active participants.

We have seen that big companies across the world such as Alibaba, have created ecosystems that encourage collaborative innovation systems within their organizations. This has allowed them participate in a multiplicity of global value chains. Such ecosystems are only possible when countries have an optimal combination of skills and ICT infrastructure. Africa has a growing youth population and connectivity that can create collaborations amongst these youths in the various countries which will go a long way towards revitalizing entrepreneurship and job creation.   

In South Africa we have a broadband strategy in place which we are implementing and this will also be aided by the release of the radio frequency spectrum that will improve and expand broadband connectivity and it will also help us accelerate the movement towards 5G which is critical for technological developments such as the internet of things.

The digital economy relies heavily on innovation particularly in Science and Technology and innovation is made possible by increased science and technology research. It is important, therefore, for the policy framework to be comprehensive and allow for the creation of an ecosystem that includes research, innovation and commercialization of innovations. This requires good policies on research funding that brings together public and the private sector, a clear policy on the protection of intellectual property and funding framework that brings the public and the private sector to empower entrepreneurs to commercialise their intellectual properties. In South Africa we would like to increase our funding for research as a proportion of our GDP to 1.5% and we also incentivize companies that conduct research through tax rebates, we have much clearer policy of intellectual property developed by the DTI and we require investors to come a work with young innovators to commercialise these innovations.

The public sector funds a large portion of the research at universities and research institutions and we have to ensure that technology young entrepreneurs can easily access the output of the research and innovations from publicly funded research. Furthermore, governments are large consumers of technology and therefore, it will be critical for procurement policies to ensure that the procure from local technology companies in that way they can grow stronger and have the ability to compete globally

Governments also need to create certainty around cyber security policy. Policies and regulations on online activities need to enable innovation not hinder it. Governments need to have clear policies on the protection of personal information such that they would discourage ecommerce service providers from abusing personal information of the consumers.

We have placed Science, Technology and innovation at the centre of achieving the goals our National Development plan by 2030. Our plan is also aligned with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. In particular, I would just like to reflect on goal 5 of the sustainable development which aims to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. The participation of women in Science and Technology is still very low across the world. As we celebrate women in the month of august it is important for us to reflect on ways that we can bring more women to participate in this sector which is critical for the digital economy. As government we can formulate policies to enable women to be active participants in the science and technology but it is by working together as the various sectors of society civil society, business and government to ensure that women empowerment becomes a reality.

I would like to tell entrepreneurs that are present here today that as the Department of Science and Technology and our government in general are ready to assist to grow your businesses. We have for instance the Technology Innovation Agency, which is an entity under our portfolio, ready to assist innovators to commercialize their products. We invest as government in our young people with ideas and we also invite private investors to partner with us in making a success of the digital economy. It is by working together all us that we can bring prosperity for in our various countries.

I again would like to thank UNCTAD and the Jack Ma foundation for organizing this important dialog. I hope that this just the beginning of a long journey that all us are going to walk together. As Chinese saying goes “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

I thank you