30th March 2011 Ottawa, Canada
Putting a Little "Innovation" in our Discussions – John Preece on Africa Rising: Entrepreneurship and Innovation Frontiers
Our New Science & Innovation Intern in Toronto, Dr. John Preece, discusses his experience at the Africa Rising: Entrepreneurship and Innovation Frontiers conference. John will also be running the Science & Innovation Canada Blog for the next couple of weeks, while I’m away. I look forward to seeing what the next couple of weeks will bring.
In keeping with the “innovation” part of the Science and Innovation Network, I attended the Africa Rising: Entrepreneurship and Innovation Frontiers conference at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto last week. The overall feeling was one of great positivity and potential, with the general perceptions of Africa not matched by the reality of strong economic growth and exceptional creativity (I was often reminded of a Hans RoslingTED talk: Let my dataset change your mindset).
As you might expect, a few common themes ran through most of the discussions: Canada, innovation, China, investment and corruption. The general feeling was that investment was a great thing – many African countries lack infrastructure, and it can be used to reduce poverty and boost economic activity. While I would question the prioritisation of things like mobile phones over clean drinking water, there is no doubt that people are better off for having the ability to run their businesses more effectively. The presence of China in African countries has raised a few hackles – though there wasn’t so much complaining when European and North American businesses were building things there – but the countries themselves welcome the competition. Where Canadian companies have the edge is in their commitment to social responsibility, bilingualism and natural politeness, though they are very under-represented in all investment sectors except natural resources. As for corruption, all speakers took a zero-tolerance approach and it appears to be working (one speaker quoted a Nigerian as saying, “In Nigeria, we have a problem with corruption – but it seems that in Canada, you have a problem with corruptors”).
With a small stack of Science and Innovation Network leaflets, I made the rounds of speakers and delegates to see who might be relevant to our mission. In this situation, the SIN would aim to link up British, Canadian and African researchers, innovation-driven companies or NGOs to the general benefit of all. With Britain’s long presence in many African countries, existing networks (such as the British Council and the Department for International Development) and expertise in many areas of interest (such as education and sustainable development), it could be a very valuable partner in almost any venture. Watch this space for any new projects!
All photographs in this post are courtesty of the Canadian Council on Africa.