Presented by WITS Business School

Unlocking the power of innovation

By Alison Gaylard

Education, training and innovation are central to South Africa’s long-term development.  This is central to South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP), which also states: “Quality education encourages technology shifts and innovation that are necessary to solve present-day challenges.”

It is against this background that Wits Business School (WBS) has developed its Master of Management in Innovation Studies, a programme that approaches innovation from a holistic point of view, taking into consideration the strategic management of innovation, policy formulation, and the impact on science and technology on society and on global sustainability, among others.

“The imperative to address climate change and other pressures facing humankind on a global scale means an urgent need to focus our collective efforts on environmental sustainability and producing solutions that respond to these concerns.  Innovation is about economic growth but not narrowly profit-driven: it needs to simultaneously address the socio-economic challenges of the country. Finding solutions to issues such as water, sanitation, healthcare, etcetera, lead to building the kind of competencies that can allow a country to compete on an international scale,” says Dr Diran Soumonni, Director of the Master of Management in Innovation Studies at WBS.

The Innovation Studies programme at WBS, which is the first of its kind in Africa, seeks to understand innovation as, firstly, an interdependent system involving government agencies, firms, tertiary and research institutions, financial institutions and regulatory organisations, among others; secondly, as a social system (involving overlapping partnerships) to ensure effective implementation of socio-economic outcomes; and thirdly, as a means for firms to boost their global competitiveness.

When it comes to innovation, South Africa is ahead of other African countries, according to the Global Innovation Index 2018, which puts South Africa at number 58, and ahead of fellow-BRICS nations, Brazil and India.

“South Africa has one of the more advanced systems of innovation in Africa, which means that private and public entities interact relatively effectively to address national goals as they relate to the diffusion of new technologies,” says Soumonni.  “Having said that, the innovation strategy is primarily located in the Department of Science and Technology (DST), but it should, I believe, have a much wider reach within other government departments and sectors of the economy in order to have a greater impact on areas such as trade and industry, energy and water.”

The concept of a national system of innovation (NSI) was first adopted in the 1996 White Paper on Science and Technology, and was implemented by the DST. The programme was reviewed in 2008, and more recently in 2018, when a new draft White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation was released. The stated focus of the Paper is to “accelerate inclusive economic growth, make the economy more competitive, and improve people’s daily lives”.

Soumonni regards academia as having a specific role to play in the innovation system in South Africa. “As a business school, we are not only trying to understand from a theoretical point of view, the various role players within a national system of innovation; but we are also analysing the experiential and evidence-based data, thereby making it more likely that diffusion of technologies actually happens.”

The Innovation Studies Master’s at WBS is an active research and teaching programme that recognises long-term economic growth as being driven by technological change, but that technology-based innovation needs appropriate business models and organisational strategies in order to have the desired kind of sustained impact on both the economy and on society.

“South Africa is classified as an upper-middle income country, but, based on the ‘economic catch-up’ theory – which suggests paths for poorer economies to grow much faster than wealthier economies – this country should be knocking on the door to becoming an upper income/advanced industrialised country. We can do a lot more when it comes to the diffusion of novel, locally-developed technologies,” says Soumonni.

“What is needed is a new generation of innovation managers, scholars, and business leaders who have an understanding of the drivers of innovation, and a concern for equitable, human-centred development.”

Applications for the 2020 intake of the Master of Management in Innovation Studies are now open.

For more information, please visit www.wbs.ac.za

This article was published in partnership with WITS Business School.

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Unlocking the power of innovation