Scale up innovation spend this pandemic

Kenya is ranked the third most innovative economy in sub-Saharan Africa, behind Mauritius and South Africa in the Global Innovation Index 2020.

The country is also considered an innovation outperformer relative to its level of development and when compared to its lower-middle income peers. This is according to the compilers of the annual index—Insead (graduate business school in France), Cornell University (Ivy League research institution) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo).

The index measures performance based on a country’s innovation inputs—such as R&D spending, higher education, regulatory environment and infrastructure—and innovation outputs like intellectual property and other knowledge creation.

While Kenya has in recent years demonstrated firepower in ICT and other creative outputs such as intellectual property and fintech, the economy is far off from its true potential.

Innovation gaps exist across many key sectors of the economy. This is largely due to a lack of incentive among innovators and organisations owing to an underdeveloped ecosystem coupled with capital access constraints. This is especially true in the field of clean technology such as sustainable food production and supply chain, recycling (water and waste management), commercial forestry and low-carbon transportation.

Despite the recent gains as the global innovation rankings indicate, innovation investments remain fragile in Kenya even among big corporations, especially during extended periods of economic shocks as Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated.

Hammered by the virus, most local businesses have shifted their focus to short-term goals for survival, while making deep cuts to long-term innovative strategies in a bid to preserve cash. This shouldn’t be the case.

Whereas enterprises should adapt to the new normal to ride out the immediate storm, they cannot afford to lose sight of potential future opportunities. And this means a continual process of innovating.

On its part, the government through friendly policies, incentives and partnerships should create an enabling climate for private sector-led innovations to flourish during and after the pandemic. Business and policy leaders are, therefore, advised to continue innovating beyond healthcare, despite the sharp economic downturn.

To this end, Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute alongside Kenya Industrial Property Institute (Kipi) have to lead the charge in encouraging development of more strategic innovations that would help the economy bounce back stronger and better.

It is encouraging to note that a few public institutions have recently taken the initiative to spark creative ideas in the economy through contests. But much more needs to be done to move the needle and we at KCIC Group are always ready to partner with likeminded people to spark the next wave of innovations.

Both the private sector and the public sector will need to develop hackathons and products/services hacks that would serve to come up with ideas to solve some of the challenges that the humanity is faced with. The contests should be focused on some sort of thematic areas—health systems innovation, food systems innovation and dignified work, climate change, resource use and waste management as examples, with the best ideas receiving financial and technical support to scale up.

Every crisis brings opportunities and room for creative disruption. The pandemic, for instance, has ignited wide-scale interest in innovative solutions for health, naturally, but also for areas such as remote work, distance education, e-commerce and mobility solutions. Unleashing these positive forces could support societal goals, including reducing or reversing long-term climate change through adoption of green technologies.

Technology and innovation are among the primary engines of a nation’s sustainable growth and economic development.

Historically, islands of efficiency and prosperity have existed side by side with poverty and other social problems in urban settings. As such, new technologies can reduce chronic problems by improving public services and allowing more efficient use of natural resources, for instance.

To remain at the top, regional innovative hubs such as Kenya are advised to continue investing in novel education and research and keep their countries open for business and open to the world.

Granted, any crisis calls for a variety of short-term responses to the emergency at hand. But longer-term objectives must be safeguarded. Innovation financing is generally regarded as a long-term investment, especially in science and technology and must never be sacrificed to more immediate economic and social demands.

In conclusion, the pandemic should not slow down the world’s pace of producing innovative products and ideas, but should instead serve to accelerate them in order for humanity to build its capacity in mitigating and managing future crises better.

This article was originally published by the Business Daily

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