28 January 2020

Programme Director

Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas, Resident Coordinator, UN South Africa;

Dr Ayodele Odusola, Resident Representative, UNDP South Africa

Embassies of Germany, Qatar and Italy;

Representative of the Public Service Commission;
UN Agency representatives;

Dr Mziwandile Madikizela;

DDG Patel and other DDG’s present;

Members of the media;

Ladies and gentlemen


The UNDP accelerator is a timely intervention in South Africa’s innovation journey and I am confident that it will play a crucial role in advancing many of the policy intents of our 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation.


I am also confident that the accelerator will play an important role in fast tracking the implementation of the social and economic development priorities of South Africa, as clearly defined and detailed in the National Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).


 Our most urgent task for the National System of Innovation (NSI) over the next decade is to direct our collective efforts and strengths to address the triple challenges of poverty, inequality, and unemployment. In partnership with a wide variety of stakeholders, we are working towards the finalisation of the first decadal plan on science, technology, and innovation by June 2020.


Consistent with global approaches, a key feature of the decadal plan will be the introduction of a set of innovation missions designed to facilitate the much-needed coordination that consistently emerges in reviews and assessments as a key weakness of the National System of Innovation. The success of the Accelerator would be enhanced by aligning closely with the missions, just as we hope the missions will provide the context within which to assist us.


I fully concur with Dr. Odusola when he noted during our introductory meeting last week that youth development is the key means through which we can decisively shift the needle on all three challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment at the same time.


I would add that it is the large-scale adoption of various forms of innovation for youth development that will be the real game-changer. This requires better ways of identifying and using a range of emerging and cutting-edge technologies, encouraging innovation across society especially community-based and grassroots innovation, focusing on new business models and partnerships, and finding better ways where proven innovation and approaches can be rapidly scaled.


It is our strong belief that our youth do not carry themselves as victims of their personal circumstances nor passive recipients of ideas, but, given the necessary support, they are active participants and innovators in changing their own conditions. It was this same youth energy that was galvanized to defeat the apartheid regime that we must harness to build a better South Africa for all, young and old.


I look forward to the Accelerator unleashing innovation in its various forms. In particular, I look forward to the Accelerator finding effective ways of building on the Post-school education and training foundation that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) is currently putting in place.


The 2013 Post-School Education and Training White Paper is fully aligned to the focus of SDG 4, that is, ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. As part of our own efforts to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, the DHET will grow the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and community colleges sub-systems of the Post-School Education and Training System at a much faster rate than the university sector.


A broad-based of skills and education strategy will substantially enhance the innovation potential of South Africa. A specific area where the Accelerator can be of assistance is to support experimentation with models that help South Africa with all of the SDG 4 targets but in particular targets 4.4 and 4.5, that is:-


By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.


By 2030, we want to substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.


The 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation sets the long-term policy direction for the South African government to ensure a growing role for science, technology and innovation (STI) in a more prosperous and inclusive society.


The National system of innovation (NSI) is not yet fully inclusive, and since 1996, South Africa’s innovation performance (measured in patents and products) has been relatively flat, albeit with lots of advances and further potential.


Moreover, the world is continuously changing in significant ways due to rapid technological change, geopolitical shifts like the rise of India and China as economic superpowers, rapid urbanisation, and the growing proportion of young people in South Africa, coupled with very high youth unemployment – to name a few.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), with its attendant risks and opportunities, is also upon us. South Africa therefore needed updated policy responses to expand the role that STI can play in, for instance, re-industrialisation, service delivery, modernising the agricultural sector and mitigating environmental degradation.


I would like to use this opportunity to highlight five key policy goals in the 2019 White Paper on STI that we believe should be factored into the design of the Accelerator.


From my brief engagement with Dr. Odusola, I am confident that some of these issues are already part of the thinking of the project team and that my comments may help to reinforce and sharpen what is planned.


Firstly, the White Paper argues for transformational change. This requires an appreciation and focus on socio-technical systems that also seek to address gender, class and racial disparities in our context.


Globally, there is a steady evolution in innovation policy where the orientation extends beyond a technology or on an innovation (for example, self-driving cars) to a focus on a socio-technical system, that is, mobility.


A focus on mobility instead of self-driving cars requires the NSI to deal with other related issues such as human behavioural issues, regulation and technology governance, and other enablers (for example, city design).


There is growing acknowledgement that a socio-technical systems approach is much more aligned to the underlying philosophical approach of the Sustainable Development Goals and can support efforts to accelerate the achievement of the goals.


South Africa is a founding member of an international consortium that is leading efforts to build relevant theory and practice on transformative innovation policy.


The consortium currently brings together academics and innovation policy players from six countries who are jointly implementing a set of capacity-building, experimentation, and research initiatives. We look forward to bringing into the design and implementation of the Accelerator some of this thinking and approaches.


Secondly, the White Paper includes a commitment to enhancing the deployment of locally developed technologies. A particular focus is on technologies that enhance improved government and social services. For example, the sanitation backlog that South Africa needs to tackle (in support of the SDG 6) also provides an opportunity for South Africa to build a new industrial base for off-grid sanitation solutions with export potential (and which supports SDG 9).


In this regard, South Africa through local innovation efforts and strategic partnerships (for example, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) has initiated, under the leadership of the Water Research Council, the Sanitation Transformative Initiative (SaniTI).


In this new and transformative approach, the circular economy of sanitation sees human waste as a resource, which allows a whole ecosystem of beneficiation to be derived from processing, byproducts and servicing models that support self-sustaining businesses.


The circular economy has the catalytic effect of stimulating and developing a series and variety of logistics and supply chain models, which brings greater convenience to the user and the much-required capacity, which is a weakness in the public model.


We are adopting a similar approach with respect to energy access and security (with a focus on off-grid solutions using hydrogen fuel cells and renewable energy sources) and in internet access and connectivity.


Thirdly, the White Paper adopts a broader conceptualization of innovation beyond research and development (R&D). To give effect to such a broader conceptualization, the White Paper commits to strengthening support for indigenous knowledge and know-how and a much more-stronger focus on grassroots innovation as well as frugal innovation approaches.


On all of these scores, the NSI has developed considerable insight and deep understanding of how these can be advanced, and we look forward to sharing these insights and learnings in the process of designing and implementing the Accelerator.


In particular, we look forward to the Accelerator finding ways of helping to scale-up current grassroots innovation efforts and community-based sustainable livelihood initiatives. We also intend to support and resource innovation in our technical and vocational education and training colleges, so that no area of potential innovation is left behind, whether it be grassroots or artisanal or high-level innovations.


Fourthly, the NDP firmly places the overcoming of the spatial legacy of apartheid development at the core of the challenges that we need to address if we are to achieve other social and economic development priorities of government. In line with the NDP, the 2019 White Paper on STI also included a specific focus on increasing the spatial footprint of innovation.


A core intervention by the 6th democratic administration that is aimed at fundamentally shifting the trajectory on the spatial front is the Presidentially led District Development Model. This model is grounded on the need for all government departments and agencies, in the first instance, to align their developmental efforts and programmes around a single, and well-coordinated district development plan.


The District Development plan must be grounded in the priorities and requirements of communities within that district. In support of the District Development Model, the DSI has started the process of ensuring that initiatives of its entities and partnership initiatives are fully aligned to the one district development plan.


In keeping with the data-driven focus of the SDGs, we are well-advanced in the development of a database that geo-references initiatives so that these can be effectively factored into the one district plan.


We have also signalled that the current profile of initiatives will be modified and change should this become necessary if our initiatives do not fully align to the priorities that local roleplayers have identified. If you have not yet shared information with the DSI team on initiatives that you are driving, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible.


Over the past two decades, the DSI has also learnt that individual initiatives need to be complemented by initiatives that strengthen local innovation systems and specifically the capacity of municipalities as key innovation actors.


We have a number of initiatives in this regard including the development and implementation of a Municipal Innovation Maturity Index tool and other initiatives. I am confident that further details on these initiatives will be shared by the officials responsible for these initiatives.


Finally, it is now well accepted that the effective collection, analysis and use of data, the effective generation of evidence, and the development of decision support tools are crucial to the success of the SDG’s. On all three fronts, a considerable number of efforts are underway.


This includes the SDG Hub at the University of Pretoria. In addition, there a number of decision support systems and tools that support robust spatial planning, understanding environmental risk and vulnerability, ocean and land use monitoring, resource maps in solar energy, biomass and wind, etc.


Complementing the important data sets that exist in the National Statistical System, the various DSI entities are also responsible for managing significant datasets including important longitudinal data sets in areas ranging from health profiles, social attitudes surveys, labour market information, education performance, state of infrastructure, and space data. DSI entities also have rich repositories of evidence that can help in answering the crucial question of ‘what works’. 


I am confident that the Accelerator will not only draw on this capacity but support our efforts to enhance and improve these initiatives. This includes securing developmental and other funding, linking South African efforts to value-adding global initiatives, and the sharing of digital systems and code for localization.


In particular, I am keen for South Africa to draw on the rich experience and evidence of what works in the various UNDP offices globally and particularly the 59 other accelerators that are in various stages of development. We hope the UNDP will greatly assist us in our efforts to work with and learn from others.


I would like to end by extending my thanks to the governments of Germany and Qatar for providing the financial resources to enable the global accelerator programme.   


I thank you