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I was recently perusing an edition of the World Bank Global Forum compendium on Science, Technology and Innovation with focus on Capacity Building for Sustainable Growth and Poverty Reduction. The compendium reveals that capacity building relating to Science, Technology and Innovation is “about building the technical, vocational, engineering, entrepreneurial, managerial and scientific capacity to solve a country’s pressing social and economic problems”. It is to transform societies, and have a positive impact on the standard of living and quality of life of indigent people within the society. Simply put, it is about building the capacity to provide good roads, clean water to rural areas, and improve healthcare. It is to add value to natural resources so that farmers can be prosperous, local industries can compete and have competitive advantage in a globalized world.
Philosophers have often argued whether policy makers should be thinkers or doers. I make bold to say they should be both because it is thinking that helps to distinguish which of the competing options is best for doing in any given circumstance. There are occasions when thinking is doing, while the desire to do cuts short thinking and vice versa. It is one’s instinct that determines which one comes first. In order to ensure sustainable economic development, it is grossly unacceptable not to think and not to do.
In this piece, ‘thoughtful doers’ are policy makers who are thoughtful in planning, designing, implementing and managing Science, Technology and Innovation capacity building programs. These are individuals whose diligence and commitment motivate local entrepreneurs’ ability to produce and export more knowledge-based goods and services, while workers possess skills to perform complex tasks. They are policy makers who are able, willing, committed and courageous to mobilize scientists, technologists, engineers, economists, industrialists, medical practitioners, and educationists to manage existing complex interaction between research, science, technology, education, innovation, industry and the society. I know that we have this category of people in our society but I wonder where they are now and why we are still unable to improve quality of life, health care delivery, access to clean water, and access to affordable energy amongst others. For avoidance of doubt, the current Human Development Index (HDI) of the country shows that Nigeria ranks 153 out of 186 countries. Although, the UNDP has described our economy as robust and resilient, nevertheless, it has not brought prosperity to the people.
Nations that are classified as ‘powerful’ are those that are technologically advanced. They possess a high level of industrialization and economic clout occasioned by indigenous technological capability. In the same vein, nations that command greater influence in world affairs, maintain a reasonable control of their economy. This means control of the factors of production and industrialization, which are the backbone of any industrial and economically developed nation. Nations that crave for relevance in today’s competitive world must not see science, technology and innovation as luxury but a necessity to enable them foster sustainable development and poverty reduction.
Nigeria is not an early adopter of technology, and can be regarded as a laggard. This does not by any means infer that we are doomed as a nation. We should be thinking of how to convert our latecomer’s status into an advantage by narrowing the technological gap. We do not have to invent most of the processes or production technologies, neither do we have to start with old technology by following the same advancement as developed nations. Our country has the potential to advance technologically. All that is required is to build indigenous capacity to find existing technologies, adapt them for local use, and incorporate them into existing processes.
It is worthy to state that the vast majority of technologies required to reduce poverty, add value to natural resources, upgrade production capacity of local industry have already been invented. These technologies are widely used in developed economies but not deployed in most developing countries. This problem can be solved by developing engineering, technical and vocational skills rather than conducting frontier- level Research and Development (R & D). This does not imply that resources should not be committed to develop our R &D capability. It only shows that R & D alone will not solve many of the economic challenges facing us as a nation.
Improving the quality and quantity of scientific research in Nigeria is essential. A world bank Report on development indicates that between 2003 and 2012, African researchers have doubled their production of research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics based fields. The report suggests that the pace and quality of research needs to be stepped up further as research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics constitutes only 29 percent of Africa’s research output despite the need for research in energy, transport, manufacturing and the extractive industries. In Nigeria, it was recently reported in one of the national dailies that research grant is available with TETFUND but only 30 out of 150 applicants have lucid research proposals to draw the research funds. This is an indictment on the quality of our products from tertiary institutions. Bearing in mind, the cost, risk and uncertainty associated with any research endeavour, it may also be argued that researchers are not taking advantage of research grants because the fund is meagre.
The process for building capacity for science, technology and innovation should be clearly defined. It requires committed and capable national leadership with coherent education, industrial as well as science and technology policies. The government of the country has an important role to play in setting the agenda, mobilizing resources, developing and implementing coherent capacity building programs. There must be sincerity and commitment to this cause only then can the industry key into the agenda. Capacity building is a crosscutting issue that transcends sectoral and ministerial boundaries. Committed national leadership is important to overcome ministerial rivalries, while inducing ministers to think outside the box. Focusing on basic literacy is essential but not sufficient to invoke economic development. Nigeria will not be able to address its social and economic problems if it focuses only on basic literacy to the exclusion of secondary and tertiary education. Strengthening higher education along with technical and vocational education is essential for creating a globally competitive economy.
A good business climate must exist in which innovative and globally competitive economy would thrive. There must be policies to ensure macroeconomic stability in order to reduce the cost of doing business. This is because improving productive capacity does not only depend on good business climate, it requires consistency in government policies and programs. It must be stressed that there is no single recipe to build capacity for sustainable growth and poverty reduction however, government policies must focus on promoting entrepreneurship and fostering relationship between public institutions, academia, and the private sector. This requires a sustainable process of institutional learning by government agencies that creates and administers science, technology and innovation policies, while universities and industry create and use knowledge.
- This articles was first published in this column by the author on Tuesday, 16 December 2014.