The South African Innovation Summit 2016 took place in Ekurhuleni, South Africa from September 21 to 24. Namibia was represented at the summit, which brings together innovations and innovators from across the globe by FABlab Namibia. The 9th edition of this annual summit saw like-minded organisations and people exchange ideas and best-practises on innovation and bridging the technological divide at a grass-roots level across the globe.
Where FABlab Namibia in Windhoek is already a thriving hub of innovation and fabrication, other parts of Africa are only now investing in facilities to drive innovation to the next level. That is why during the summit the city of Ekurhuleni pledged the sum of N$90 million to roll out fabrication laboratories (Fablabs) across the city to support technology skills transfer and provide a platform for local innovations to take shape. Namibia’s then Minister of Trade and Industry, Calle Schlettwein, was already committed to fostering innovation back in 2014 when he unveiled the first FABlab in Namibia at the University of Science and Technology (NUST).
It is very encouraging to see other governments on local, regional and international level follow this example.
This summit has been hosted every year for the last nine years. It instills the idea amongst stakeholders that entrepreneurs who possess innovative business ideas and the determination to transform them into viable employment and create enterprises need to be supported. These are the employers of the future who will produce goods and services for domestic consumption and export, and nurturing them is essential for the growth of each country’s economy. It is the only way to drive innovation, combat unemployment and develop what is dubbed “hybrid employee” skills in the communities.
Speakers at the summit covered innovative topics such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, virtual reality and applications in business, social innovations and key technology trends. FABlab Namibia’s Kirstin Wiedow and Bjorn Wiedow gained more insight into the rapid technological developments that are happening, such as deep learning, which is considered the “next big thing” by Silicon Valley investor firm Fenox VC. As well as hearing FNB Business South Africa’s CIO predict and prepare organisations for the fact that they need to embrace becoming 100% digital. If Namibia truly wants to be competitive and become a knowledge-based society it needs to be part of these summits and apply and implement best practices and case studies locally so that Namibia as a nation may benefit and flourish. Adapting locally what has worked internationally,
Bjorn Wiedow of FABlab Namibia at NUST took part in a panel discussion, “Accelerating Innovation: FABLABs” with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) FABfoundation’s Sherry Lassiter, Alejandra Dias of Fablab Mexico and the South American Fablab Network and Fabio Lopes of Fablab Colombia. Participating in this panel discussion on behalf of NUST and representing innovation in Namibia is something to be proud of as it shows how far Namibia already is when it comes to innovation, fabrication and technological developments in comparison to a lot of other countries and regions around the world.
Ms Kirstin Wiedow, director at FabLab when asked said: “It is essential for stakeholders and those in charge of budgets to understand and back these labs as they truly transform communities and bridge the technological divide. Although Fablab Namibia initially garnered support and funding from MITSMED to start-up, it has been a real challenge to secure further support as people don’t seem to understand the need for investment in these Fablabs to reap the rewards in the short, medium and long term. These summits will hopefully raise the necessary awareness on the ‘potential’ contribution of Fablabs to a nation’s economy with government and business alike.”