Eastern Cape drives innovative platforms for development

Its purpose, said the head of the Eastern Cape innovation hub, Simphiwe Dzengwa, was to craft an innovation strategy and create platforms for innovative players to come together to understand the imperatives for the province and its economic development and growth. This innovation would also enforce other elements of growth in the process.

An initiative driven by the governments of Finland and South Africa in 2009 established an innovation baseline and noted a number of problems.

"The report noted that there are nascent innovation systems in the province but these are not mature or developed. We have four universities and bodies like the CSIR here, but no collaboration or common agenda.
It also noted that we have big companies in the province in the automotive sector but they don't do research and development here. There is limited applied research happening. What we get out of the universities is research that's intellectually important but has no application in terms of economic stimulation. So we said we need to pull these together and ensure we talk to a common agenda of innovation."

And innovation, he clarifies, doesn't just mean science and technology but also social and public innovation for social development.

"In bringing these elements together we saw an opportunity to establish new enterprises and stimulate innovation in our communities. We sought to establish it in our research bodies and out of research and innovation we commercialise and create jobs and improve the provincial economy."

In March 2011 Innovate Eastern Cape was officially formed to be the champion of initiatives around the province. So far two instruments have been established — the eMonti Science and Technology Park in East London and the Nelson Mandela Science and Technology Park at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

"In Port Elizabeth," said Dzengwa, "we have established a platform for innovation between universities, government and the private sector through the regional innovation forum, and we intend to establish one in Buffalo City.

"Within government the intention is to work very closely with the office of the premier to holistically idenitfy government challenges that could be taken out to market so that innovative enterprises can provide solutions and therefore stimulate jobs while solving concrete challenges."

He said the province had also identified a number of other innovation projects that could have a serious bearing on its economy. "We've looked at complementaries in the province.

"For example, we have a large automotive sector, yet we import most of our hides. The Eastern Cape has the second largest herd of cattle in the country after KwaZulu-Natal; why are we not processing our own hides?"

Besides hosting this conference, he concluded, "we hosted a symposium of all science parks on the continent in Port Elizabeth in April and some of the people there are here today again representing parks from around the continent.

"From here we are looking at possibilities and co-operation opportunities with the World Bank. We want to make sure there are legacy projects shaping our partnerships beyond the conference. We see this as a beginning and a nice platform to kickstart our innovation drive as informed by the provincial innovation strategy."

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