Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 100

Thought leader
Innovation, infrastructure and
industrialisation: the cornerstones to
economic health
The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
aims to transform our world through a set of 17 goals. sustainable
development goals (SDGs) 8 and 9 could be considered
prerequisites – the means, as Adam Szirmai put it, to achieve the
other goals. Adequate infrastructure, together with industrialisation
(which is an indirect effect of infrastructure) and creativity
(innovation), are the cornerstones for economic competitiveness,
and therefore closely connected to the achievement of political,
social and economic goals. But innovation reaches far beyond
these two goals, argues Piet Barnard.
The Global Competiveness Report 2015/2016, which
provides an overview of the competiveness performance
of 140 economies, ranked South Africa 49th overall,
putting the country in the top 35% of all countries.
South Africa is ranked 36th on innovation and business
sophistication, 50th on technological readiness, 59th on
infrastructure (mainly due to a low rating for electricity
supply – 116th), 12th on financial-market development
and 38th on goods-market efficiency, to name but a few.
Based on this, one would consider South Africa to be
well positioned in terms of SDG 9, and as a result able to
address the other goals.
UCT’s Research Strategy 2015 to 2025 commits the
institution to contribute, through its research and
innovation, to (inter alia) the better health of our citizens
and those of our continent, the elimination of poverty,
and creating the conditions for a meaningful life. The
strategy furthermore pledges that the institution “will
serve both South Africa and the rest of our continent by
contributing to its ability to innovate in a world where
new and radical thinking ensures the competitive edge”.
Innovation is an integral part of our strategy; as a
result, an innovation working group was established
to help in building an innovation culture. The working
group does not limit innovation to those inventions
that lead to patents and the generation of income, but
has defined innovation as “the creation and successful
implementation of new ideas and inventions that
make a real difference through the generation of
tangible outcomes with social and/or financial value”.
This definition seeks to include the notion of social
innovation. The university’s research strategy speaks
to many of the SDGs, and is addressing those
through various initiatives; many of these include
significant innovation. For instance, SDG 3 (Good
health and well-being), which is a bold commitment
to end the epidemics of AIDS, TB, malaria and other
communicable diseases, is at the core of the research
of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular
Medicine (IDM), and UCT holds numerous patents
related to these diseases.
However, UCT is not unique in these commitments and
initiatives. Many of the other South African universities
have similar initiatives, and are also undertaking similar,
credible research. The question is then: why does the
Global Competitive Report rate South Africa 128th
on health and 120th on quality of education? These
rankings place South Africa behind neighbouring
countries such as Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
What are we doing wrong? What are we as a research
community, in collaboration with government and the
private sector, going to do to address these problems?
Resolving these two important matters will require
innovative thinking, commitment and collaboration.
We need to get this right; if we don’t, many of the
goals – despite our current efforts – will remain just
that: goals.
Piet Barnard is director of Research, Contacts and

Adam Szirmai

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