Employment creation through innovation

Hon. Supa Mandiwanzira

Last Wednesday, Zimbabwe held its inaugural ICT Innovators Showcase in Bulawayo where a number of talented Zimbabweans displayed their innovations. We publish Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Supa Mandiwanzira’s address at the event.

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Today, we are embarking on a journey, a journey to empower Zimbabwean innovators. And the reason is simple – Zimbabwe can only thrive when innovators thrive.

We need to position Zimbabwe as a world leader in turning ideas into solutions, science into technologies, skills into jobs and start-up companies into global success stories.

In short, making Zimbabwe an innovation nation. That’s what the country should be about. The ministry has a vision to transform Zimbabwe into a global innovation centre, an innovation nation that creates good-paying occupations for college leavers, driving growth across all sectors of the economy and improving the lives of all Zimbabweans.

That is the purpose of the innovation agenda that my ministry is putting forward today.

Earlier this year, I announced the setting up of an ICT Young Innovators Fund, the main objectives being to increase ICT research and development uptake by young innovators and research institutions in Zimbabwe, to increase the number of home-grown ICT applications and development among young Zimbabweans, to establish innovation hubs within the country and to provide business and technopreneural training and incubation services to young innovators.

I am happy to say progress has been registered in putting in place the necessary framework for the fund.

This fund is meant to create a breed of young technopreneurs who will put this country on the global technological innovation map.

Like any other country, Zimbabwe has its own unique challenges which can only be solved through ICT innovations by Zimbabweans themselves.

Zimbabwe has a high literacy rate, and year after year, our graduates produce brilliant inventions as part of their college projects, the majority of which go to waste due to lack of financial, material, nurturing and mentorship support to refine them into final innovations that address real challenges facing society.

This is so disenchanting on the part of the young innovators considering that application and content development requires little financial investment.

It is for this reason that our ministry came up with the idea of the Innovation Fund to support and promote young ICT innovators.

It will help develop their ideas, protect their intellectual property rights and deploy their technical solutions for use in Zimbabwe and the global market.

This is expected to equip the young innovators with necessary skills and resources that will make it possible for them to create employment, not only for themselves, but for others as well.

This is a deliberate attempt by the Government, in partnership with other stakeholders in the industry, to create an environment that motivates the young ones to innovate to their fullest potential.

Continued lack of innovation in the ICT sector will see the country rely on ICT applications developed in other countries, making it impossible for Zimbabwe to address the unique socio-economic challenges that society is facing.

Thus there is certainly need to embrace this initiative. With the brilliant innovations that I saw during this afternoon’s exhibition, I have no doubt that this Fund will go a long way in making our country the innovation hub of Southern Africa.

All that is required are young technological visionaries who are genuinely alive to difficulties confronting our society and are willing to put their time in thinking of ideas that address those difficulties.

Already, some young Zimbabwean innovators have started claiming their space on the international arena.

Our own Ian Nyasha Mutamiri was recognised at the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva on May 4, 2016 as WSIS Champion.

His award was for a low-cost Android based E-learning application that enables children in rural Zimbabwe to learn to read using their own languages (including Ndebele and Shona) as well as to engage children with learning disabilities.

We also had Kudzayi Chisinga, who is studying at the Harare Institute of Technology, travelling to Google-USA in recognition of his innovation.

As a Government, we would like the recognition and protection of these Zimbabwean-centric innovations to be protected and promoted in Zimbabwe, rather elsewhere, hence this initiative.

I, therefore, challenge all innovators gathered here tonight to emulate and complement these young Zimbabweans’ efforts, and lead the charge, making the dream to propel Zimbabwe to technological innovation a reality.

This initiative is being rolled out countrywide.

We are identifying creative Zimbabweans who are able to develop ICT projects that can make a difference here in Zimbabwe.

What we saw outside this evening has the capacity to be bigger than what Mark Zuckerberg built.

What it requires is Government and industry support. That is all Zimbabwe requires to be the greatest innovator on this planet.

There is a reason why Zimbabwe is the most literate society on the African continent, and there is a reason why (there is) US$480 million to expand the network.

And you know what happens?

We now have more people getting into mobile smartphones and accessing the Internet.

Do you know who is benefiting?

It is Mark Zuckerberg, it is Twitter and all these other guys.

But who has invested in this infrastructure?

It is Econet, Telecel, NetOne , TelOne and the Government of Zimbabwe.

So, we have created a market for Microsoft, a market for Viber.

How about creating a market for ourselves?

That is the challenge we are throwing back at local innovators.

We are saying, “Let’s not have Microsoft benefiting from the investment we have put in to bring more people onto the information super highway. Let’s not have Facebook benefiting exclusively. Let that benefit go to our own people.”

Of course, it’s a competitive space we are in.

We can allow the others to come in, but if you talk to us nicely, we can squeeze them out and allow you to prosper because that is what they do in their own countries.

I have just come back from China.

There is no Google there, there is Baidu and everybody in China uses Baidu.

There is no Twitter in China, they have Weibo.

So they have all these platforms and have done this deliberately.

They won’t allow you to profiteer where they can innovate and make the profits themselves.

Some of you follow me on Twitter, so you didn’t see me active because I was in a territory that has people who are proud of their own innovations.

We should be proud of our young people and what they are producing.

That is why we are doing what we are doing.

I know a couple of people out there sometimes tend to think that all Government wants to do is to stifle their liberties.

We have no interest in stifling your liberties, we have interest in making you have food on the table and that’s the number one initiative — creating employment.

Everything we have seen outside has potential to create employment.

Now, Washen is a very exciting innovation.

Students at the National University of Science and Technology do not have time to do laundry because of their study schedules.

So, what they are basically doing with Washen is giving a platform to a maid who isn’t well paid to do extra work on the side, washing clothes.

And there is a guy who must deliver them back to the university.

This has created employment, too, for the woman now doing the students’ laundry and the young man who delivers that laundry with his bike.

We can create employment by doing these things in our country.

It’s not rocket science.

We try to make it seem so difficult.

It’s not difficult.

It requires Government support.

It requires what the ministry, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe and industry players are doing now — funding innovation.

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