INNOVATION GROWTH NEEDS COLLABORATION- JERRY BEUKES

By Kelvin Chiringa
September 2016
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Recently appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the Namibia Training Authority (NTA), Jerry Beukes, affirms that the remedy to Namibia’s weak innovation industry and lack of global competitiveness is in taking a collaborative approach from different stakeholders.  
At present, Namibia’s innovation industry has been rated as still poor compared to international standards despite the Namibia Commission for Research Science and Technology (NCRST) taking colossal efforts to develop innovation entrepreneurship through innovation competitions, research and innovation sponsorships and advocacy.
“Namibia’s rating in terms of national competitiveness globally shows that we are not doing that well, but I think the structures and the systems are now in place particularly through the Ministry of Higher Education and Innovation. You might be aware that there are already a number of initiatives to support our innovation agenda as a country but we can only do this if we collaborate and if we strengthen what we are already doing from an innovation perspective,” he says.
While in the first world innovation is incentivized through the allocation of heavy and light industrial work to students in a bid to foster tangible growth, Beukes is quick to confirm that NTA is already taking the same  direction by supporting innovation entrepreneurship development through proper mentorship in the VET institutions.
“The NTA specifically is now working on one of the initiatives that has a specific focus on entrepreneurship development where at our vocational training centres we want to begin to identify particularly level 3 trainees and graduates from the VET’s with an attitude so that we can support them through proper coaching and mentoring programs and perhaps even in the future we begin to support them with basic tools and equipment to help start their companies,” he tells Prime Focus.
As Namibia struggles to up its game innovation wise, entrepreneurship has been incorporated into the general curriculum in formal schools in a bid to grow Namibia’s innovation seed bed to increase the country’s international competitiveness, Beukes reveals.
“I am cognizant of the fact that entrepreneurship is a subject which is part of the general education curriculum, even the Ministry of Education is already creating awareness at least as part of the formal schooling that our kids get. But we need to do more to become competitive as a country, we can only become competitive if we have the right skills, until we get there, we will have this challenge of being competitive as a nation,” he says.
However Dean for the faculty of Computing and Informatics at the Namibia University of Science and Technology, Dr. Anicia Peters, lambasts the failure to embrace digital startups as curtailing the creation and fostering of a conducive environment for motivating innovation entrepreneurship.
“We are not embracing and encouraging digital startups, to create a rich sense of innovation, you do not just need to go into the formal educational institutions, you also need to get into the communities, you will be surprised with what people are doing with technology these days,” she says.
She further decries policy formulators on innovation as impeding creativity and growth sighting policies as often stumbling blocks and not stepping stones for progress.
“Government tries to impose frame works, policies and strategies, the problem is if you are looking at the people on the ground, there is a lot going on albeit it is not enough, but I think we can grow it  and encourage it more. The people on the ground, get a lot of constrains because of these frame works and they get to be stopped,” she says.
She further takes a swipe at the lack of timeliness in policy formulation which reveals a lack of competency in the effort to move faster to bring out much needed policies for innovation growth.
“Our policy gestation period is so long that by the time they would actually have developed the policy and that we are now using it, it would have been obsolete, because technology moves too fast,” says the dean.
Computer Science, Digital Forensics and Information Security Cluster lecturer at NUST, Attlee Gamundani, nevertheless posits that although innovation entrepreneurship is starting to take its infant steps in Namibia, government’s efforts in bolstering its development still remain not up to ideal expectations.
“We actually carry out very practical innovation initiatives with novices to create a rich industry but we still need government support which albeit it is there but it remains not to our fullest expectations,” he says.