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How to maintain innovation tempo post-Corona crisis

By Phyllis Wakiaga
Wednesday, May 20th, 2020
State officials and Kenyatta University students mill around a ventilator prototype developed at the institution. Photo/PD/John Ochieng

It is human nature to build when in crisis. In the past few weeks, we have seen manufacturers shift  from the manufacture of their usual products to Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and ventilators approved by the Kenya Bureau of Standard as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

This has shown that Kenya has no shortage of innovative minds, a trait that we are well aware of.

But this also brings to mind a critical question: What has been holding us back? 

Innovations need deliberate investment in terms of capital, policy, supportive institutions and legislative frameworks.

According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the link between academia and industry is bolstered by successful innovation which cannot happen in isolation.

Innovation and actualisation is a journey that requires the right policies, finance and government assistance to make it a reality.

The link between innovators and industry has to be made possible for seamless creativity.

If this is done successfully, we will create a sustainable solution to reducing unemployment.

Kenya has a budding youth population and supporting their innovative ventures will be a great boost to the competitiveness of the local manufacturing sector.

Thus, the onus is on government, learning institutions, industry and the public to keep up the innovative bug beyond the pandemic.

If we look at one of the world’s leading innovators, South Korea and its transformation from one of the poorest countries into an urbanised, high-technology economy with a highly-skilled workforce, we will find a rich history of investment in Research and Development as a share of GDP compared to other economies. 

According to recent data by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), South Korea spent 4.29 per cent of its GDP on R&D in 2014, followed by Israel (at 4.11 per cent), and Japan (3.58 per cent).

As a country we need to create incentives for organisations and institutions to invest in Research and Development, for demo and prototype products and simulations to rejuvenate the innovation space. 

Government support will go a long way in ensuring that innovators are provided with proper protection policies and supportive incentives to enable them create and be an integral driver for Kenya’s economic growth and industrial development.

There is a need to continually equip the Kenya Industrial Property Institute to support the increasingly sophisticated trends in creativity through various technologies and the internet of things.

We should also think about how to establish a pipeline that will see regional IP registration harmonised regionally making sure that patent laws are recognised across the divide. 

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers has made sure, through its initiatives Manufacturing Academy as well as the Technical Vocational and Education Training (Tvet) Programme, that different stakeholders understand that IP laws are the only way to protect and grow their creativity.

As we progress the country beyond the Covid crisis, we  need to prioritise the idea of strengthening our home grown solutions to be able to help our economy to withstand future shocks but also diversify our exports in the region.

We are working with the government to ensure these innovations are inculcated into the country’s long-term economic strategy for self-sustenance.

We have the opportunity to use digital innovations to catalyse growth and re-imagine our future.

In fact, the combination of digital transformation and innovation has turned the global business ecosystem upside-down, giving birth to a new generation of business models to which we should take advantage of with our innovation bug.

I believe this can be achieved if we just have the sound progressive policies in place. — The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers — [email protected]

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