02 October 2017
In pursuit of its mission as espoused in the Science &Technology Act, the National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development through the Malawi Public Policy and Analysis Project (MPPRAP) a project that promotes evidence based policy decision making, organized the 2017 National Research Dissemination Conference, with a theme "Research and Innovation: A catalyst for Sustainable Development" in Mangochi, Malawi on 28 and 29 September 2017.
The conference was graced by the Minister of Education, Science and Technology who was the Guest of Honour. Other speakers during the opening plenary included the Secretary to Treasury, Secretary for Education Science and Technology, the Chief Director, Economic Planning and Development, the Chairperson of the Board of Commissioners for NCST, the Executive Secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF); among other dignitaries.
NCST invited Paul Cunningham, IIMC / IST-Africa coordinator to provide a keynote presentation on Collaborative Innovation and Research Collaboration in the opening Plenary.
mHealth4Afrika demonstrated its maternal health system and medical sensors currently being piloted in healthcare clinics in Malawi, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa in the Exhibition, providing conference participants with access to tangible results coming out of one of the Research and Innovation Actions funded through the Horizon 2020 ICT-39-2015 Call.
The conference brought together over 200 participants including: researchers; academics; representatives from government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs); representatives of non-governmental organizations; development partners; the private sector; and members of the press.
The aim of the conference was to provide a platform to present and discuss lessons learnt, best practices and solutions to the challenges impeding on socioeconomic development. It objectives included to:
- Promote uptake of research results
- Provide a platform for researchers to showcase their research works
- Enhance cooperation, collaboration, networking and partnerships
- Facilitate evidence based policy decision making
- Enhance scientific advances into marketable innovations
The conference themes included:
- Agriculture, Irrigation and Food security;
- Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources;
- Education, Social Sciences and Humanities;
- Health and Population;
- Energy, Industry and Engineering;
- ICT and Knowledge Management; and
- Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
The main keynote presentation was provided by Paul Cunningham, IIMC / IST-Africa Coordinator focusing on "Collaborative Open Innovation, Innovation Ecosystem Stakeholders and Factors Impacting on Open Innovation and ICT Entrepreneurship". Two other presenters from Malawi provided complimentary presentations focused on "research and development as a transformation tool in agriculture revolution" and "the role of research and innovation on industrial development".
The crux of the conference was from the presentation that the IST-Africa coordinator delivered, which emphasised the following pointers for Malawi to consider to support building an Innovation Culture:
- Importance to invest in Education, Skills Development, Lifelong & Wide Learning to open windows of opportunity for employment and self-employment; include 21st Century Skills as part of curriculum for all courses; and align focus of education with the actual societal needs of Malawi
- Invest in Value Added Processing of Raw Materials: increasing level of higher paying employment opportunities; significant opportunities to grow value of exports and opportunities for import substitution and grow Agrifood sector
- Engage in multi-Stakeholder collaboration to address societal challenges: support and promote multi-stakeholder Innovation Spaces bringing together complimentary resources, expertise and networks and support multi-stakeholder (and cross-border) collaboration
- Set ambitious goals for Science, Technology & Innovation Fund - consider bringing together investors from the public, private, education and research, societal, funding and international donor communities
This keynote presentation raised of the activities supported through the IST-Africa Initiative and more specifically the H2020 funding opportunities. This resulted in participants wanting to find out more on how they can access these funding opportunities. Feedback from participants also demonstrated that the speech was indeed motivating with a lot of participants expressing interest to engage in multi disciplinary collaborative research projects which would focus on solving societal challenges.
Emphasis was also placed on the need for NCST to operationalise its Science, Technology and Innovation Fund for researchers to tap from.
In conclusion, the IST-Africa keynote presentation hit the nail on the head as it was able to send critical messages required in order to achieve sustainable development from research and innovation especially leveraging comparisons between Ireland and Malawi's demographic and development indicators and providing practical examples of how Ireland was able to move from an ailing economy to what it is today.