7 June 2018

Rwanda to Launch Innovation Fund Next Week

Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente has said that Rwanda will next week launch the National Research and Innovation Fund, which is expected to support the implementation of local innovations as well as research for development in the country.

The premier said this on Wednesday while officiating at the opening of the second edition of the Africa Innovation Summit (AIS), which is underway at Kigali Convention Centre (KCC), bringing together over 600 participants.

"I am pleased to share that we will officially launch our National Research and Innovation Fund next week that we believe shall serve as a major research funding vehicle through which research and research-based innovation activities shall be supported," Ngirente said amidst loud cheers from participants.

He made a case for innovation, saying that one of the key elements of African development is to catalyse the innovation spirit in Africa through supporting and promoting young innovators in different sectors such as agriculture, ICT, energy, and education.

"In Rwanda, we are making strides to build a robust ecosystem for innovation in order to help our country meet its aspirations towards achieving a knowledge-based economy," he noted, adding that innovative activities in the country are already rising.

Earlier this year, officials at the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) had said that such a fund would help to implement the regional science, technology and innovation policy.

It was announced in March this year that the fund would be worth $100 million.

They said it was also well aligned with the African Union's Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) 2024, which seeks to accelerate the transition of African countries to innovation-led, and knowledge-based economies.

Africa has, over the past decade, consistently invested in infrastructure development, agriculture, conducive policy and regulatory environment to attract private sector.

Despite this, the premier said that Africa has not been able to leverage the private sector as an engine for transformation.

Ngirente argued that the only way to overcome this and other challenges facing the African countries is innovation.

"We must innovate. We must build robust ecosystems for innovations," he said, adding that African countries are now creating national support institutions for innovation, including developing innovation policies and strategies.

He also highlighted that it is becoming evident that in many countries, technology and innovation hubs have sprung up to take advantage of mobile technology to resolve existing problems.

Most reports estimate that there are more than 200 million people aged between the ages of 15 to 24 in Africa, making it the continent with the youngest population but with the highest youth unemployment rate globally.

One innovator from Zimbabwe appealed to African governments to increase the level of funding in African youth innovations if they want to see them impacting the continent's economic growth.

"There is no point in us (youth) innovating if we can't have local funding to basically bring our products to the market. We ask our governments to look at regulations that they place on financial institutions and see whether they are really enabling investments in innovations and startups," Simba Mhuriro, of Oxygen Africa, said.

The energy entrepreneur added that only a few financial institutions take risks on African youth making it impossible for their innovations to thrive.

But the Minister for Information Technology and Communication, Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa, said that lack of employment and low levels of education and skills are among other issues that are limiting African youth to grow.

"All these challenges have resulted in generation of young people with almost no association to the formal job market. But time and time again, we are realising that innovation is our only way out," he said.

At the three-day summit, participants from different sectors are deliberating on how they can advance the role that innovation plays in transforming the continent's economy.

"What we're trying to do with the AIS is to see how we can get people together, from innovators to policymakers in order to build a broad constituency in support of innovation in Africa," Olugbenga Adesida, the co-founder of summit, told participants.

According to the organisers, Ihaba, there are about 50 exhibiting innovators coming from over 40 countries in Africa.

The event attracted renowned personalities like Donald Kaberuka, the former President of African Development Bank; Carlos Lopes, the former UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) executive secretary; UNECA executive secretary Vera Songwe; and Maria Cristina Russo, the head of European Commission's directorate-general for research and innovation, to mention but a few.

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