“LOCATING THE NEXUS OF RESEARCH, INNOVATION, TECHNOLOGY AND THE SOCIETY”
Innovation is now acknowledged as a key driver of economic growth globally. Advances in automation, the digitization of information, easy access to data and the democratization of knowledge are transforming every sector of world economy – from healthcare to transportation to energy and beyond. The scope, scale, and ubiquity of these disruptive innovations is unprecedented. According to data from McKinsey study (2013), a dozen technologies, including genomics, energy storage and automation, will drive major economic and societal transformation in the coming years. With a potential economic impact between $14 trillion and $33 trillion a year in 2025, the value of these emerging technologies could constitute one third of global GDP. African Union’s Agenda 2063, emphasizes that Africa’s growth, competitiveness and economic transformation requires sustained investment in new technologies and continuous innovation in areas such as agriculture, clean energy, education and health. The Kenya Vision 2030, embolden in the Big Four Agenda, is championing manufacturing, food security, health care and affordable housing. Universities will be expected to play a significant role in the achievement of these goals.
As this tech-driven economy and innovation gather momentum, universities must change gears and move in same trajectory. While the core mission of university education - generating and nurturing new knowledge should be retained - universities must also entrench innovation as a driver and catalyst of economic development. Universities must strive to meet the challenges of the digital revolution head on, and play an increasingly important role in the innovation ecosystems. Universities should mainstream entrepreneurship as part of the academic experience and create environments where innovative thinking flourishes. They need to establish centres or hubs dedicated for innovation so that students and young faculty can use them to make a difference in society through start-ups, social entrepreneurship and other ventures of creation.
In today’s competitive environment, universities must also develop new partnerships with leading companies, foundations, and other research-intensive institutions. These partnerships are not just about transferring knowledge from lab to practice; they provide critical funding for talented faculty and students to pursue foundational research, enable students and faculty to exchange ideas with the very best minds inside and outside the university to prepare students to be citizens of a rapidly changing world. Corporations are gradually recognizing the high-value - return offered by these collaborations and are setting aside funds for research. In Kenya, Safaricom, Equity Bank and Chandaria Foundation are leading firms which have come out strongly in this regard.
Interacting with students in the University and TVET institutions reveals that there is a lot of innovative ideas, start-ups and even spin-offs which have been generated, but most of them have not been disseminated to the wider public. A forum such as this one would offer a good opportunity for more discussion and sharing. As we celebrate all the gains of science and technology, it should be appreciated that technology will not automatically transform humanity.
It is incumbent upon universities to allow artists, ethicists and philosophers to point the way; the policy experts and economists to draw the roadmap; and the cognitive scientists and sociologists to help ensure the destination is designed for people as well as machines. It is imperative that scholars work in tandem with the applied researchers and technologists who are driving the revolution.
That can be summed up as locating the nexus of Research, Innovation, Technology and the Society.