New frontiers of knowledge : Innovations

When Sir Anerood Jugnauth announced the formation of his new government in December last, he displayed his lifelong experience of government business by consolidating existing Ministries through the addition of relevant portfolios, namely Innovation, Ocean Economy and National Emergency and also by creating a new Ministry responsible for Financial Services, Good Governance and Institutional Reforms.
     The new  configuration and appellation of some Ministries are very much in line with the developments happening on the world scene. In this article, I shall dwell exclusively on Innovation. When I was Head of the Ministry of Civil Service in 2004-2005 I came across a competition organised by the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration (CAPAM) to attract projects on Innovation from all Commonwealth countries . Later, I had the opportunity of attending the presentation of the selected projects. I considered it important for our Public Service to participate in such ventures and invited our government ministries and departments to submit entries for the subsequent competitions. Having  left the Ministry in 2005, I hope that more progress has been made to stir up our interest  in this promising field.
 Now that there is a Ministry responsible for Innovation there is no doubt that it will elaborate a full-fledged strategy to incorporate Innovation as an integral part of the developmental activities of not only the Public Service, but also the private sector and indeed the entire nation.  The field of Innovation is boundless as there can be no limit to research and imagination. We need to unlock the innovation potential of our population.

A flurry of developments have happened in all continents in respect of strategies to promote the spirit of Innovation. As the scope is too vast, I shall mention only what is taking place in Africa. The African Innovation Foundation (AIF) has since 2011 organised the annual Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) Awards. IPA has registered incremental success and is today recognised as an important platform not only for showcasing Africa’s ability to innovate so as to address its own challenges, but also to celebrate Africa’s ingenuity. It is fitting to record that the first milestone was achieved in 2012 when the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) passed a resolution to promote an innovation society for Africa’s socio-economic transformation. That was a revolutionary approach on the part of AU and UNECA.
It is no wonder that in such a short lapse of time, the IPA Awards have sustained a growing interest in the entire African continent. For this year’s competition, the IPA Awards have received a record number of 925 innovation projects from 43 African countries. Ten best projects which display a diverse range of innovations from agriculture to education and E health have been retained for the Awards. The grand winner will be known at the Award ceremony  on 12-13 May, 2015 in Skhirat, Morocco.
Just to give an insight into the quality and contents of the ten projects competing for the Award and also for the benefit of potential innovators from Mauritius for the next Awards,I shall briefly enumerate them:
Morocco-A potential alternative to livestock antibiotics. This natural and innovative formula reduces the health hazard to cattle and humans.
Kenya-Farm Capital. This initiative screens and shortlists small farmers and helps them to devise farming plans to attract potential investors.
South Africa-Lumkani fire detection. An off- the-shelf fire detection device and alert service that uses radio frequency transmission technology suitable for poor and informal dwellings.
Burundi-A new type of cement that protects water against carcinogenic lubrication oil spills.
South Africa-Scientific engineering educational box(SEEBOX). A box that allows children to play a practical and experimental way of learning sciences and electronics.
Kenya-E harambee. A mobile application that empowers individuals and organisations to initiate and manage fundraising via sms or web devices.
South Africa-Smart spot TB check. This examines the accuracy of machines to detect TB diagnosis.
Cameroun-A cardio pad. This is an affordable tablet that records and processes the patient’s ECG before transmitting it to a remote station, using mobile phone networks. It can be used in small village hospitals in the absence of a cardiologist. Once transmitted to a hospital where there is a cardiologist, the ECG results are processed using the cardio pad and the prescriptions are conveyed back. This ensures effective monitoring of heart patients in rural areas with limited or no access to cardiologists.
South Africa-Mellowcabs.This is a suite of technologies that includes kinetic energy that is typically lost in the braking process, converting it into electricity and storing it.Other associated innovations include hydrogen-fuelled Mellowcabs and an application to book cab rides and track the cab’s location.
Uganda-Water distillation system and process. This innovation provides an alternative source of viable drinking water in areas of water shortage. Salt water is evaporated at low temperatures and then condensed into fresh water at low costs by using solar energy.
I understand that our Ministry of Innovation is drawing up a National Innovation Policy which should in the medium term propel our innovators on the international scene. I suggest that the Ministry sponsors some of our most promising innovators to attend the Award ceremony in Skhirat where they will be thrilled to visit an innovative marketplace. In the long term we may give serious thought to the hosting of the prestigious Award ceremony in Mauritius and aspire to become a nation of Innovators.