I think the word ‘innovation’ has become that power point staple that over time has been ground, mixed and watered down to mean something synonymous with developing everything from writing 300 lines of code for a mobile app to engineering a solution for energy-efficient cooking using minimal firewood (even when it is not necessarily innovative).
A quick peek into the English dictionary leads me to discover that innovation means the introduction of new things or methods. Therefore technically Facebook as a concept wasn’t innovative(although there were certainly innovative aspects to it such as the ‘like’ button).
Which brings me to our Rwandan context…I have been giving it more thought upon discovery that I am culpable of raping and abusing the word innovation in my pieces, throwing the word around at any given opportunity with little or no thought to what it really means to us.
The itch in my side is this: do we really need to be innovating in the traditional sense? Creating new technologies that bring about the new world order? I believe not.
What we really need is copy-cat, adaptive innovation (pardon the oxymoron): picking leaves from scientific and technological advancements and adapting them to fit our local needs.
We don’t boast of numerous research facilities in our country yet but working with what we have, we should look into aggressively using existing and new findings to produce copied, customised, cheaper options for ourselves.
It is important at any rate that there be appreciation and understanding of the clear links between the supply of these reverse engineered, reconfigured ideas and the demand for them by our market – seaming research with local communities to ensure maximum impact.
One example of this is re-using existing methods to engineer cost-effective solutions to pumping and filtering underground water and thereby addressing the clean water shortage problems in a lot of areas.
With this paradigm shift one can only be hopeful that we can mutate the current thinking on the golden triangle of innovation to create our own that couples the public sector, industry and academia.
Of course with the shift there will have to be the creation of frameworks to monitor and evaluate the process to allow continuous learning and adaptation.
Down the road it is plausible that research giants could find a home here and build on existing research infrastructure to create partnerships that will lead to cutting-edge innovation.
Maybe, just maybe: until then we are best-suited to defining innovation in a way that serves our interests.
To serve our interests will mean starting at square zero – maximizing our universities to find solutions that tackle our problems, possibly by using this method of adaptive innovation.
It is fair to say that we don’t take full advantage of our universities, and local businesses, something that can hardly be healthy, even to these institutions themselves.
Lastly, I am sure some degree of this innovation is already taking place – we should keep it up and explore more avenues to fully take advantage of the paradigm shift.
Have a great week folks!