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SA solutions needed for local challenges

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Kathy Gibson reports from SATNAC 2015 – Government is keen to build more partnerships with private companies to drive innovative solutions that address African challenges – and it wants more locally-owned companies to come on board.
This is the word from Naledi Pandor, minister of science and technology, talking at the South African Telecommunications, Networking and Applications Conference (SATNAC) this morning.
She points out that the Department of Science and Technology has a well-publicised research and development (R&D) strategy roadmap that is being implemented by the CSIR Meraka Institute.
“The aim is to develop an innovative, sustainable indigenous ICT industry,” she says. “We aim to attract investment from ICT companies, and establish laboratories in South Africa.”
With the aim of increasing public and private investment, Pandor explains that a framework has been developed to guide the department’s engagement with global ICT companies like Cisco and IBM.
“In the main, we expect this to stimulate public:private partnership in ICT R&D as well as in innovation,” she says.
The department has so far invested R62-million through partnerships. This has largely been co-funding with multinational ICT organisations, but Pandor says South African-owned partners are now being sought.
South Africa’s scientific grand challenges for the next 10 years have been identified as global climate change, energy security, space science innovation, the bio-economy and poverty alleviation.
All of these grand challenges require strategic ICT projects, Pandor says. “These are the challenges we need to focus on and believe we need to solve. There are a numher of opportunities for the industry to invest, and we aim to catalyse those investments.”
There are many challenges and opportunities in Africa at the moment, she adds. “Africa is the fastest growing region in the world. We are challenged to ensure we sustain this growth, and we believe it can only be sustained through innovation – and that innovation addresses the challenges we face as a continent.
“We believe that Africans must develop solutions to meet our own unique challenges,” she adds. “We must compete globally and we must foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, especially among the youth.
“Who is better than the youth to take advantage of technology? We think the youth could be the answer to a range of challenges, and ICT is the tool they can use,” Pandor adds.
“The future of the country and the continent depends on the development of scientists and entrepreurs, working in scarce skill fields using innovative solutions for our most pressing challenges.”