Why Africa Needs More Investment in Innovation, Design and Technology?

Originally published in DESIGN> magazine, this article looks at the current relationship between innovation and economy within Africa. Although government-thinking is significantly advanced in this area, certain steps are needed to improve the situation within the private and public sector. Roy and Deirdre Marcus emphasise education, leadership and knowledge-sharing as key factors in this process.


“Today’s successful business leaders will be those who are innovative of mind – with the ability to embrace new ideas and routinely challenge old ones. They are alert to instantaneously implement innovations and establish communities of practice through knowledge enablement.”


– Tom Peters, 2008


Having accepted that innovation is now recognised as the key driver for economic growth in both developed and developing economies, we need to look at Africa in the context of global markets. The reality is that the very concept of innovation is generally well-accepted within African governmental circles. In fact, one of the most serious concerns is that in many African countries, government-thinking is way more advanced than that of the private sector. There is a serious concern as to why the take-up of innovation, as a key business driver, is appallingly low. The reverse is true in countries and companies where innovation is driven by the private sector. The private sector sets the pace, and governments are expected to create the necessary legislative frameworks to capitalise on the private sector-led initiatives.


A further observation which is fundamental to the argument, is the fact that contrary to common beliefs, Africans are highly innovative. So, right at the outset let us state unequivocally – innovation has no racial or gender boundaries!

What should be changed to get African private and public sector companies to capitalise on their governments’ forward looking policies – seeing that the problem lies outside of government? The fault for this discontinuity lies primarily at the feet of the academic institutions who, by and large, have failed their countries by distorting the very notion of innovation. The harsh reality is that the world of academia has developed ‘blueprints’ for stimulating innovation which are fundamentally flawed. These are flawed in as much as most of the academic innovation protagonists have never had personal experience of working in the ‘real world’. The flaws also lie in academics’ penchant to derive a one-fits-all model. Thirdly, the problem lies in the fact that most of them have taken Western models and used them as their base.

We need to accept that, within the African economical context, conventional strategies have clearly become inappropriate – new innovation-driven methods are urgently required to move the countries into a new league.

The role of educational institutions is to create mental models so that emerging managers have the necessary tools and confidence to essentially enhance their internal and external operational functioning through innovative future value propositions. This could contribute significantly towards positioning their competitive sustainability in the knowledge economy.


Economic freedom is a complex notion which leverages competitive economic architectures and is obtained through learning and a knowledge-sharing culture. Leadership should compel the future vision in Africa through mining knowledge efficiently and applying it efficiently. The South African-based Da Vinci Institute believes that African business leaders as knowledge workers are essential, and should be placed strategically within the emerging economies to produce knowledge from an entrepreneurial orientation, thereby moulding organisations and the country as a whole to fully participate in the new economy.


As such, the intelligent African organisation of the future must be challenged to perpetually charge leadership to realise the value in transforming today’s corporation into a knowledge-manifesting enterprise. Amidst the proliferation of new technology, the only source of lasting competitive advantage is, arguably, the generation of new knowledge. Communities of practice are now needed to introduce repositories of future value propositions, which are disseminated throughout the organisation.


Thus the challenge facing the educational institutions is to inculcate a mindset where the dynamic corporate curriculum is effectively deployed with the sole intention of stimulating a behaviour in which continuous innovation is positioned as a natural and not forced event.


This can only be achieved through the creation of multiple-participant networks to create new business strategies that leverage the capabilities of progressive organisations to deliver new products or services. Managers need to liberate organisational structures to become networks of creative capabilities and innovative relationships to thereby form collaborative communities of practice. This translates into a platform that enables organisations to participate in value-creating networks that redefine the traditional boundaries in the new economy.


Ultimately, it is all about focusing leadership on learning to find solutions for business and related issues, improving current practice and ultimately increasing the business community members’ capabilities. It is through the development of creativity and innovation that Africa’s business leaders should encourage ongoing dialogue throughout the industry to generate networks of knowledge communication to re-enforce innovative empowered knowledge workers.

ote: This author was originally published in DESIGN> Magazine, Issue 13, entitled “AFRIKA”, and has been republished with permission.

About the authors

Prof. Roy Marcus is Chief Executive Officer at Da Vinci Holdings and Chair of the Council at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. Deirdre Marcus is executive director at The Da Vinci Institute for Technology Management.

The Da Vinci Institute for Technology Management (Pty) Ltd is one of South Africa’s leading educational institutions. The Institute is a school of management, developing concepts and learning solutions related to the management of technology, innovation, people and systems. www.davinciinstitute.co.za

About DESIGN> Magazine

DESIGN> is an electronic magazine that seeks to present and serve designers from all disciplines, the design conscious and the design curious in Africa and beyond. DESIGN> is a participant in the International Design Media Network (IDMN).

For more information, please contact:

T: +27 82 882 8124 E: cameron@designmagazine.co.za W: www.designmagazine.co.za


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