Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, says that government is addressing gender and racial imbalances in the make-up of the country’s science and technology workforce.
Answering her own question of how technology can transform Africa, at the Entrepreneurial Mindset conference in Johannesburg earlier in the week, the minister said that one answer is to create Silicon Valleys in Africa.
“There is a difficulty with the Silicon Valley concept. It is based on excellent universities and a start up culture and a collection of venture capitalist companies that produced Google and many other Information technology (IT) tech companies. The trouble is Silicon Valley is very difficult to replicate in other parts of the US never mind other countries,” Pandor said.
Instead, the minister said that the answer is to create an innovation system that supports entrepreneurship, “and that is what we have been doing in South Africa”.
She said that African countries can build an innovation system that begins with the raw materials of education and investing in research and development (R&D).
“Those two components produce ideas that are then turned into new products by firms. The key elements are leadership and talent development,” Pandor said.
“Over the past twenty years we have built a system that connects local government, big business, start-up entrepreneurs, venture capital, research organisations, higher education institutions, Further Education and Training colleges, and Services Sector Education & Training Authorities (SETAs).”
The minister said that a place to start is with human capital development. “We are encouraging more students to embark on science and engineering studies, but we also need to sustain their ability to pursue research careers… We are addressing gender and racial imbalances in the make-up of our science and technology workforce.”
Equally important, Pandor said, is the development of entrepreneurial skills. “We have already ensured that the intellectual property resulting from public funded R&D will be better managed and exploited through the establishment of the National Intellectual Property Management Office,” she said.
“Ensuring the necessary institutions and instruments are in place for South Africa to bridge the so-called “innovation chasm” or “valley of death” between research and market will be a priority. We are revitalising our Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to complement the funding of our National Research Foundation,” the minister said.