Industrialisation and a local culture of innovation

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BY PHYLLIS WAKIAGA

Sweden is home to IKEA, a global furniture manufacturing company known for its ready to assemble furniture and Volvo, world renowned as the epitome of car safety.

The small Scandinavian country always scores highly on innovation rankings, which was not always the case. At the turn of the century, the Swedish economy performed poorly until a solution was found in creating a national culture of innovation.

Core curriculum changes were made to encourage children to explore ideas and create from a very young age. As a result, the country is now a global leader in the number of patents registered in its borders.

The manufacturing industry thrives on innovation which has been identified as a key economic driver and which is usually the result of research and development. For the past few years the United States of America’s manufacturing sector has seen the most growth in the computers and electronics sector, the same sector that helped Korea emerge as a technological giant thanks to its Samsung products.

It is an area that has seen the most innovation in the last decade as we moved from simple mobile phones to smartphones.

We now have the industrial Internet which is seen as the next industrial revolution globally calling for new approaches in manufacturing. The critical question is, if we have not yet even caught up to 3d printing, how shall we keep up with industrial internet? We are eons away from global competitiveness.

That is why a skilled workforce is so necessary to spark the industrial revolution we are seeking. We need people who do not only know what has already been done but can solve problems and come up with new ideas that can be applied both to local problems and at a global level. To date, our greatest innovative export is M-PESA which solved a local problem perfectly and is also relevant in different markets around the world. More of these innovations are needed to spur growth.

However, for innovation to occur, the seeds of creativity, tenacity and risk taking have to be planted in our educational curriculum.

In a technological age where kids grow up with smartphone devices and cheap connectivity to the Internet, it is possible to emulate Sweden’s success locally. Perhaps not overnight but gradually and faster.

Higher education has to be a catalyst to industrialisation. Teachers and schools are the key agents to realising that the skills set held by graduates are relevant for industry. Our educational curriculum should aim at inculcating entrepreneurial mindsets and skills for innovative skills to flourish in the workforce. It should be transformative and help students explore, come up with great ideas and turn them into profitable businesses.

Very few local universities and polytechnics have as their stated goal, the growth of entrepreneurs. A well defined national innovation strategy developed closely with the Ministry of Industrialisation and Enterprise Development is needed together with a national roadmap towards the goal.

The 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) by the African Union (AU) which is part of the longer-term Agenda 2063 can offer a good starting point for the development of our own strategic plan. With the stated mission of accelerating “Africa’s transition to an innovation-led, knowledge-based economy,” it has been crafted to enable the continent reposition itself economically through an education.

In the meantime, Industry encourages students to be aware of the skills they are developing in their assessment and experiences and to be able to evidence these effectively in the employment market. Businesses are usually the source of real life examples and experiences that make the theoretical practical and local firms have shown themselves more than willing to work closely with tertiary institutions to provide opportunities to young people to hone their skills.

The latest Kenyan Economic Update released by the World Bank posited that the informal manufacturing sector was a challenge to the formal sector. We need to grow this sector through by training and growing entrepreneurs in our tertiary institutions and by encouraging practitioners currently in this sector to be more creative.

The rise of an age of industrial innovation also requires investment into research and development. It has been shown that for every dollar spent on research and development, two dollars are earned in return and a huge number of jobs are created. We have to become a knowledge based economy if our vision is to be an industrialised nation as laid out in Vision 2030 is to be realised. We will need to invest a lot more in our education and research to hasten our growth as an industrial nation.

(The writer is the CEO-designate of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and can be reached on [email protected])

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