Innovation lessons to learn from Singapore

Monday November 11 2019

Lenana High School students explain how their mosquito trap prototype works, during a science competition on September 26, 2014. Africa’s development depends critically on science, technology and innovation. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Research, innovation and enterprise are cornerstones of Kenya’s strategy to develop a knowledge-based innovation-driven economy and society.

Unfortunately, poor funding among career researchers in higher education institutions is a major headache that strains the researchers and government.

Maintaining a global vision and putting money into research and development are essential to have an international impact on research and innovation.

With low investment in research and uneven adoption of innovative processes, Kenya risks missing the boat.

Singapore, Kenya’s role model on economic growth, transformed itself from a developing economy with few natural resources to a thriving global metropolis.



Since independence in 1965, the government understood that it had to develop science and technology (S&T) capabilities to overcome the constraints of the country’s limited size and lack of natural resources to ensure its economic survival.

Over the next 25 years, its research and development budget increased ten-fold to position it as an innovation-driven, knowledge-based economy.

Very early on, Singapore recognised and harnessed the benefits of open innovation by collaborating with and anchoring strategic partners, thereby transferring their capabilities and expertise to the local ecosystem while creating good jobs in the local economy.

Today, Singapore has become a nexus for high-quality research and innovation.

It ranks eighth in the 2019 Global Innovation Index, outranking even European giant Germany at ninth. Indeed, its SMEs employ 70 per cent of workers and contribute half of the GDP.

In Kenya, with the troubles persisting for the lack of financial grants and underfunding from the government, there is a need for the National Research Fund to diversify its fundraising strategy and avoid exclusive reliance on the National Treasury.

It should be more of a money-sourcing agency and less of a distributor.


In Singapore, the largest contributor of research funding is the private sector.

Of the 2.2 per cent of GDP available for research, the industry contributes more than half (1.2 per cent of GDP).

South African National Research Foundation sources research funds from state and external sources.

Kenya can replicate the industry-university-government system by creating a conducive environment for businesses, motivate them and also provide favourable tax regimes.

In 2010, Singapore embarked on open innovation model — from research to innovation to enterprise.

Big companies have partnered with universities to set up corporate labs which attract world-class academic investigators, train high-quality research talent and create new knowledge in specific areas.


Africa’s development depends critically on science, technology and innovation as embodied in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and there are increasing signs of coherence in developing scientific strategies.

Research and innovation is an investment in our own future. If we want to be a knowledge-based economy, which thrives on innovation and enterprise, then this is where to invest.

Mr Njoroge, a 2019 Moonshot fellow and Global Innovation through Science and Technology 2019 award winner; he teaches at Mount Kenya University. [email protected]