15 September 2017

Ethiopia: Transferring Technology, Improving Lives

In this highly sophisticated world, the role of technology is massive. Nowadays, technology allows anyone to do things, which once were unimaginable or impractical, so easily. In developing or under-developed world, technological innovations could deliver far more services to improve the lives of millions.

For instance, less well-off people in such areas have started providing adequate information about the standard of life they lead using Smartphone. They diagnose their own level of poverty in 30 minutes using the device. A family in a poor slum or a rural village has the capacity to take stock of its own situation. Traditionally, it has been government social workers who administrate and process such surveys.

The technology called Poverty Stoplight do the opposite. Here, a family assesses their level of poverty in 50 specific indicators, and the results are visualized in a dashboard for the family to use. So, instead of being an index for policy-makers, the Poverty Stoplight is a tool for a very different kind of decision-maker: the head of the household. Once that household's deprivations are visualized in the dashboard, the family creates a customized plan to prioritize their problems and overcome them with the help of existing resources in the community.

Despite such and other immense uses of technology, African countries are marginal producers of new technology for various reasons. Their share of the world's research and development effort is less than half of one percent and the research works carried out do not produce much technological innovation.

Indeed, the research and development efforts in Africa have made little contribution to technological and economic development during the last three decades and it is not expected to make much contribution either in the years ahead.

Much of the discourse on research has been and still is self- deceptive. In this context sound technology transfer and acquisition have to play an increased role in African development than it has up to now and it must receive greater attention from policy-makers than it has so far. In particular, human, institutional and legal capacity in technology transfer must be enhanced.

Despite the hurdles, Africa is trekking to the platform and gearing efforts in technology transfer to fight poverty.

This writer has got the opportunity to take part in an event that was prepared to discuss the issue under discussion. On the event, Federal Technical and Vocational Training (TVET) Agency State Minister Teshome Lemma has announced that technology copying potential of Ethiopia exceeded 80 percent.

Teshome told The Ethiopian Herald that this success is an indicator that the nation can attain the target of enhancing and innovating technologies by the end of this year. "This would be realized because the Agency is diligently working to reach the technology copying rate to 100 percent and improve technology innovation effort shortly through building the local human capacity and recruiting overseas experts," he said.

Over 5,000 various technological innovations worth hundreds of millions of Birr have been transferred or adopted during the GTP I period, Teshome illustrated. This rate has shown much progress over the recent years. "The Agency copied and distributed over 1,987 technologies to Micro and Middle Enterprises. And the Enterprises have in turn reproduced and sold the technologies."

Agency Communications Director Abera Abate for his part said the progress achieved in terms of job creation and income generation has been encouraging. "This is also the result of the training we offered regarding the multiplication of copied technologies."

A significant amount of wealth has so far been created this way, and the trend has also been a good opportunity to the trainees for it has allowed them to create their own jobs, he said.

Hurdles of various sorts have been overcome, as the State Minister as well as the Director hinted. The attitude of "impossibility" in copying and using technologies has been one of the hurdles propping up along the path. Financial constraints as well as reduced trust on the copied technologies have also been the other attitudinal challenges, Teshome pointed out. "We overcome the challenges by showing how copying and using technology is possible, while maximizing resources to tackle financial challenges."

Producing prototypes has been one of the duties of Level -A trainees in TVETs, thus, the Agency has promoted reusing waste materials, as a method to cut cost, in producing the prototypes. Recently, the Agency has formed a joint venture program to work with local universities and research institutions. Hence, the trainees could produce prototypes in collaboration with the aforementioned institutions. The university-industry linkage would, inevitably, maximize the transfer of knowledge, experience and technology.

Moreover, the linkage is monumental in overcoming gaps witnessed with respect to designing, Teshome indicated.

It could also enhance the capacity of TVETs' in copying and testing basic technologies before reproduction so as to avoid economic and other detrimental impacts.

No doubt, technology is the engine that would transform inputs to outputs. In today's sense, it comprises the following: Equipment and machinery as well as skilled, scientific and creative human-power. Besides comprehensive information system and good organization and management would realize further technological development.

The efficient interaction of the above factors would influence the performance of companies and the national economy positively. Manufacturers and their agents can be considered as motors of development. The aim of producers and agents is to achieve value addition and competitiveness. In addition, the use of advanced materials, efficient production methods and availability of adequate spare-parts are major contributing factors to improve competitiveness.

Current statistical analyses indicate that the rise of Gross National Product in the industrialized countries is due entirely to the changes and improvements in technology. In addition, recent studies have shown that development in technology has a significant impact upon indicators of national development such as population, income per capita, employment, productivity, export and competition in international trade.

Clearly, changes in economic indicators can have a direct influence on social indicators such as social security, life expectancy, access to medical care, mortality rate, and literacy rate and income distribution. In developed countries, the application of modern technology is directly proportional to the needs of consumers and markets, whilst in the underdeveloped countries, engineers and managers are attracted to the latest technology without regard to the appropriateness of such technology to the needs of their consumers. The inevitable consequence of this action is the underutilization of machinery purchased.

The effective transfer of technology, through selecting and purchasing of machinery, is best achieved in tandem with suitable services, training, maintenance, access to spare parts, marketing, etc. Otherwise, the financial resources, manpower and other production factors would be wasted.

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