IS INNOVATION HUB THE WAY FORWARD FOR BOTSWANA?
Speaking at a conference on the Botswana Innovation Hub in Gaborone, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Baledzi Gaolathe, said the policy was central to the governments macroeconomic management, fiscal, monetary and exchange policies and more especially it has resonated in the more focused sectoral policies.
Despite the modest progress achieved in our drive to diversify the economy in the manufacturing, services and agricultural sectors, we continue to witness the dominance of the diamond sector as the major contributor to the GDP, export earnings and government revenues, he said.
Therefore, the nation continued to be vulnerable to fluctuation in the mining sector and said it had accentuated the need to come up with alternate strategies to make the economy more diversified and competitive.
Gaolathe said the concept of innovation hubs and a knowledge society was introduced into National Development Plan 9 in 2002. It was then referred to as a science and technology park.
Gaolathe said he was concerned about the levels of unemployment, especially among the youth, saying it was crucial that the country promote economic activities that lead to diversification and improved levels of employment.
The project we are considering here today, the proposal for an innovation hub, has the potential to contribute in addressing this important national issue, he said.
He said the consultants from Technopolis Finland were tasked to explore the feasibility of developing the Botswana Innovation Hub, and to develop a viable business plan that would stimulate joint participation by both the public and the private sector in the development of the hub.
The envisaged hub is viewed as place for the emergence processing, commercialisation and transfer of knowledge, he said.
The business plan would be judged by its ability to address its potential for attracting Foreign Direct Investment in high technology businesses such as Information and Communications Technologies, biotechnology and other internationally tradable goods and services. It would also be judged by its ability to stimulate and support the start-up of innovative, high growth, technology based businesses with a focus on exports.
Gaolathe said the business plant would also be judged on its ability to accelerate growth of new and existing businesses by creating an environment of innovation, and helping businesses to commercialise their products, processes and services.
The business plan should also attract research and development activities of leading multinational corporations to set-up in Botswana as a choice investment destination.
Minister Gaolathe said another critical factor that needed to be addressed as the nation explored additional economic engines of growth was that a precondition for an enabling environment, especially for technology-based sectors, was a pool of adequately trained professionals.
He said the large budget allocated to education had resulted in a high quality education system that had produced school leavers who had fared well in tertiary education institutions all over the world.
We therefore have manpower with basic education on which we can leverage this investment to transform our economy into high technology manufacturing and service orientation, he said.
Gaolathe said the proposed innovation hub had the potential to be one of the vehicles to take the country forward considering the many information communication technology developments in schools, coupled with the new University for Science and Technology geared towards providing highly skilled human resource.
However, he said, we must realise that there will be a lead time for such a scenario to come to fruition, and as a result we will have to rely on foreign skills during the start-up phase.
The minister said already a number of information communication technology companies had approached the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) with interest to participate in the hub.
He said the government was to provide a venue with state-of-the-art telecommunications facilities and other incentives to make it easier for such companies to set up in Botswana.
Possible activities in the Hub included software development, high-tech manufacturing and other services such as call centres.
The hub business plan proposes to establish it as a public private partnership initiative with a company being set up in which initially government will be an investor with a substantial private sector participation.
Botswana Press Agency