I subscribe to the idea that innovation is the engine of social and economic development in general and of agriculture in particular. Current worries about rising food prices have heightened worries about the state and future of Nigerian and indeed African agriculture. Much of the problem lies directly in the low level of investment in our agricultural research and development. In his book “The New Harvest”, the late Harvard professor Calestous Juma wrote, “Improving agricultural development in Africa will require specific efforts to align science and technology strategies with agricultural development efforts”.
However, even beyond agriculture, many African countries are increasingly emphasizing the role of science and innovation in economic transformation. At regional and national levels, we see many efforts to encourage more young Africans to undertake studies in the fields of science, technology and engineering; promote and support research and innovation activities. Nigeria, being the most populous nation in Africa as well as the largest economy, must lead this awakening and steer towards science and innovation for economic transformation.
Twice I was part of a remarkable team of innovators, business leaders and government officials who wanted to create a vehicle for this desire to develop the capacity of young people not only to study science and technology, but also to actually innovate in various sectors and commercialize these innovations to achieve economic transformation in Nigeria.
We focused on providing educational and professional training services, capacity building, supporting and promoting innovation and creativity in the fields of information and communication technologies and agro industry. The general problem we sought to address was the lack of an organized platform that offers both training/skills development and business support services for young aspiring innovators, particularly young undergraduate science and technology students. This has left Nigeria with a poor track record of successful science and technology enterprises and high unemployment among its young people. Despite the persistence of these problems, the conventional education system in Nigeria has not been able to bring about change by innovatively responding to the problems.
With the relentless strike actions of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the relegation of polytechnics and colleges to the background, it is clear that there must be new approaches to addressing education and the development of capacities of young people in Nigeria.
Therefore, the main objective of our program was to create an alternative approach to develop science and technology education, entrepreneurship, skills acquisition and career paths among young people. We have designed a framework to leverage conventional and unconventional approaches to influencing skills and knowledge in ways that put the learner in the best position to face the real-world challenges and rigors of career and life. entrepreneurship. Our ultimate goal was to fast track exceptionally skilled science and technology entrepreneurs. The methods we have adopted have combined both vocational training, entrepreneurial capacity building and business support services through short, medium and long term experiential courses, apprenticeships, mentoring and support. to businesses.
The turn of the 21st century has marked a shift in the types of skills that have real and applicable value in a rapidly changing world. Creativity, design and manufacturing, for example, are now at the forefront of educational considerations globally. We strongly believe that popularizing a culture of innovation through collaborative environments in our schools, businesses and even government offices will go a long way in positively affecting the quality of Nigeria’s future. This is why we have taken our time to not only learn from the best players around the world, but also to adopt our learnings to build a sustainable and viable system for Nigerian youth.
For two years, we worked extensively with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), through the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (MIT REAP), which provides opportunities for communities around the world to engage with MIT in a practical, evidence-based approach to strengthening innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystems (IDEs). We have conducted extensive research on our collective innovation capacity (ability to develop and scale innovations that are new to the world, from conception to market launch). Similarly, we examined in detail our entrepreneurial capacity (ability to start and create new businesses in the world, from creation to market).
We have analyzed various aspects of the two forms of capability, ranging from our human capital (quality of basic education, basic graduates per capita, doctorates per capita, and availability of scientists and engineers), financing (ranging from R&D expenditure in percentage of GDP to total business expenditure on R&D), infrastructure (access to ICT, broadband, availability of latest technologies), demand as well as culture and incentives. After further remarkably detailed explorations of the subject of innovation and innovation-driven enterprises, we set to work developing our own bespoke solutions covering the inescapable long and short term battles that we necessarily had to overcome. to accelerate entrepreneurial development.
One such solution involved hands-on skills-based programs in innovative problem discovery, ideation, user innovation, stakeholder engagement, making and manufacturing, property law intellectual property and more in a series of fast-paced, carefully designed learning activities for young people in partnership with higher education institutions, corporations, venture capital providers and government institutions.
In addition to well-organized content, they would learn. We wanted young people in these programs to be coached by experienced innovators, to learn experientially from entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and others in our vast innovation ecosystem. We wanted to be a catalyst, opening their youth horizons to the latest research, ideas, funding, breakthroughs, failures and most importantly innovation executives directly from the global epicenters of innovation as well as in Nigeria.
Last week, as the world celebrated International Youth Day, I met the Nigerian Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, who listened to me with keen interest and granted my request to revive this project. . It is my firm belief that through efforts like these, we can begin to address the multiplicity of questions plaguing our nation, especially around young people and unlocking their true potentials.