Saturday, September 26, 2020

Please do not turn Botswana Innovation Hub into an “Estate Company”

We recently had an opportunity to tour part of the iconic building of the Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) located in the capital Gaborone.

Except for the controversial part where it is said to be cracking (or cracked), the building seems to be of world class, iconic indeed. It is beautiful and well built. Its construction took into consideration a lot of factors including environmental and climate change issues which are a positive for an organisation like BIH.

For the sake of those who might have missed it, BIH ÔÇô the state owned company, recently moved into its premises at Block 8 location in the capital Gaborone. Not only did BIH move, but it also moved in with some of its ‘tenants’. Yes, a few companies amongst them Dimension Data and Alpha Direct are some of the companies that now pay rental fees to BIH ÔÇô the company hopes to use the money to finance its other operations.

From the look of things, and based on sentiments that were made by some of the BIH executives at the meet and greet, the BIH could find itself trapped as a mini-estate or property company.

From where stand, this part of the business model if relied upon could turn BIH into nothing more than an estate and property company that leases out office space and some few hectares of land.

As we speak, the BIH budget has been cut by the government by atleast 10 percent according to the officials who addressed the ‘stakeholders’. As we know, ever since it was set up, the BIH has been partly dependent on government subvention. The 10 percent slash on its budget could mean its scope has also been reduced if no other sources of funding are found. Perhaps this explains why Alan Boshwaen and his team have resorted to “other means” of income such as leveraging on the company’s assets.

This move we support but we hope that Boshwaen and the team would not settle for such as the ‘real alternative’.

The BIH executives should ensure that the money received from rentals is recapitalize the company and drive it towards a fully fledged national ideas incubation centre. This is what BIH should be ÔÇô our own Silicon Valley.

As things stands, only an ambitious BIH is needed. The one that could help the young innovators of this country to become active players in the global village.

What cannot be stressed enough is the fact that the world is quickly turning into one big theatre where “knowledge” is becoming key to survival. This then brings us to the question on whether we are in the flow of globalisation and the digital future. We surely do not want to be caught napping. This is to say, to succeed now and become competitive (and relevant) in the future we have to continually refresh our stocks of knowledge. This is only possible if we are also participating in relevant flows of new knowledge. We cannot just be consumers. Our public academic and research institutions such as BIH, University of Botswana, Botswana University of Science & Technology(BIUST) and the Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA, to name but a few should be aid the citizens of this country to become active players when it comes to knowledge sharing.

As we write this, so many people around the world are taking advantage of the globalization and the flow of information. Surely we should not just aspire to have our people as part of this big theatre but through these public institutions we should have them being active players. The Botswana Innovation Hub for instance should be capacitated to ensure that it occupies its prime spot when it comes to converting the domestic economy into knowledge or ideas based economy. It is quite evident that elsewhere in developing economies, policy and law makers are busy harnessing their innovation potential to reinforce resilience against turbulent markets and sustain rapid economic growth. In their quest, many countries are now turning to information and communication technologies, in their role as key enablers of innovation and new employment opportunities. Why can’t we do the same here?

With smart phones, tablets and laptops, our people as far as Nokaneng village or as near as Radisele village along the A1 Highway (Sir Ketumile Masire Highway) should be able to tap into the flow of knowledge/information to compete, connect, collaborate and even invent. To do this, the people need support from the government and the private sector. This is the space that BIH should be occupying to become a meeting point for young innovators from the private sector and decision makers from government through some sort of funding.

The truth of the matter is that if we want to overcome poverty, or eradicate poverty (to borrow the government enclave vocabulary, we ought to ensure that we are able to ask and answer these simple but rather important questions ÔÇô are we connected to the poorest persons in Botswana, and how can we empower them? By empowerment we mean being able to give these people basic tools to acquire enough skills and knowledge to overcome dire poverty. When we answer these sorts of questions it is of utmost important that we totally erase the likes of Ipelegeng and some of the bubble gum programmes that government has been running over the past several years from our minds. Let’s think something sustainable. The #Bottomline is that the quality of our economic output would increase satisfactorily if we ensure that our people have sufficient skills of survival in the modern world economy where ‘knowledge and innovation’ are key.

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