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Pwani Innovation Week casts light on the National Innovation Agency

Tuesday December 10 2019
By JOHN WALUBENGO

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are centred in Nairobi. But last week, I got a taste of ICTs outside Nairobi at the Pwani Innovation Week.

In its second year, their website proclaims:

This year’s Pwani Innovation Week provides a platform where governments, industries, businesses, organisations and individuals will showcase, engage, discuss and explore how Africa, through Kenya, is leapfrogging economic growth – using digital technologies.

And it did not disappoint.

Tucked away behind the iconic Fort Jesus, the various innovation events took place at the scenic Swahili Pot - Mombasa answer to what Nairobians call innovation hubs - but with a bonus ocean background to die for.

More importantly, the Swahili Pot provides the youth of Mombasa and the wider coastal regions a regular space with free broadband Internet access, meeting rooms, a café and other amenities.

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During the year, they have time to work on their innovations with the knowledge that at the end of the year, they will have opportunities to showcase their digital innovations to top leadership in government, industry, academia, investors and any other enthusiasts.

They would also learn a lot from the experienced panellist who volunteer to speak on various topics that range from managing startups, pitching to investors, running a business as well as navigating the legal and regulatory environment that may impact their young enterprises.

The Pwani innovation edition went beyond traditional ICTs and brought on board the arts, culture and sports - with a splash of how the youth could leverage ICTs to scale their gigs to the next level.

This was a true case of devolving innovation.

For Kenya to be truly a digital hub for East and Central Africa, we must have similar innovation hubs across the country.

BEST-PLACED

This is because each county has its unique set of problems whose pain-points are only experienced by the local residents. It is those very residents who are therefore best placed to provide innovative tailored solutions.

In other words, the techies in Nairobi are least optimised to provide coastal solutions compared to the coastal techies themselves. This is because the Nairobians will have to overcome some learning curve that the locals can avoid before proposal the local solutions.

This is the basic idea behind clustered or regional innovation centers as prescribed in the national innovation policy published about five years ago but yet to gain traction at the county levels.

The innovation policy envisioned innovation centers structured locally and regionally while staying coordinated on a national innovation agenda. A State agency was also established to oversee and actualised this vision.

Despite the success of the Pwani Innovation week, it was largely driven by the private sector. Would it have been much more successful if it was supported by the public sector innovation agency?

The innovation agency has the mandate and opportunity to fund innovation activities across the counties.

Perhaps it is time to do some stocktaking and see how the innovation agency led by the public sector is performing in pushing the innovation agenda beyond Nairobi.

We need to sustain a countrywide innovation agenda to truly make Kenya, the innovation hub for East and Central Africa.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.

Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu

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