Source: The Department of Science and Technology
Title: SA: Pandor: Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, at the signing of a DSR-Absa memorandum of understanding
Mr Bobby Malabie Chief Executive: Absa Retail and Business Banking,
Heads of business units, general managers, sector specialists and guests from Absa as well as members of the media.
I would like to welcome you all to the department of Science and Technology. The memorandum we will sign today focuses on four areas of Human Capital Development, renewable energy, IT and agri-business. These are focus areas that are critical for South Africa’s economic future.
The DST is very keen to establish genuine and productive partnerships with the private sector. This is because we recognise the vital role the sector plays in investing in Research and Innovation.
This major MoU with one of the big four banks is an important achievement.
It is well known that our financial-services sector is highly rated in a range of international competitiveness and innovation indexes. We believe there are many lessons to be learnt and programmes to be developed from a collaboration such as this one.
I hope that this is the beginning of much more energised collaboration between business and government.
In the past five years the DST has done a great deal to promote innovation and to expand resources for the Science, Technology and Engineering sectors. We have achieved a lot of progress but clearly need to do much more.
One of the areas that holds a great deal of potential is innovation in goods and services. We need to invest more in innovation; we have to excite our scientists to become more focused on innovation and creativity.
All the most recent policy statements of government identify this gap and opportunity, our partnership will be one of the national responses.
In the past five years we have made advances, we funded the development of South Africa’s first electric car, we are developing a vibrant advanced materials manufacturing base and we are exploring opportunities arising from our vast mineral wealth in platinum and other minerals.
For today, I hope that this signing ceremony sends out a signal to business that government means to boost research, that government means to boost innovation, and that government is serious in wanting to work with business so that we compete more effectively in theglobal economy.
Banks are huge users of IT and business services, and you are often at the cutting edge of innovation in these processes.
I am sure that there is a lot of research that you undertake on your own, but you are well aware of the competition in the internet market place, which is full of young men and women (nobody oldever invented anything on the internet, says Koos Bekker), who are developing one app or another to make your lives run more smoothly and our bank balances easier to understand.
Activity in the app world is vibrant and innovative and we have to do as much as we can to promote and nurture its development.
And I must say that this is true not only of here in South Africa but in Africa as well, according to the editor of aleading UK Tech magazine Wired. If you want to become a billionaire in the next five years and you are tech savvy, move to Africa. It’s a no-brainer.
The internet is only now arriving, and -- with a billion people on the continent still mostly offline -- there exists a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build the next Zyngas, eBays and Groupons for a huge untapped local market. You need only look at the map of huge broadband fibreoptic cables currently being laid on both east and west coasts, from Djibouti to Dakar, to understand how quickly andambitiously an entire continent is being connected. It's like being back in1995 again, and realising there might just be a market for an online bookshop or auction website.
Government and business should work together to take advantage of these huge opportunities.
Specifically, the DST and ABSA commit to invest in research and development, from early stage to prototype and even to commercialisation - if we provide the appropriate incentives to spawn a growing venture-capital sector. Government has taken some steps as outlined in the last two budgets, but there is more that we can do and there is more that we will do.
For example, one of the initiatives earmarked under this collaboration is a technology commercialisation match-making event that will introduce the inventors or innovators of earlystage and near market technologies to potential financiers.
Investment in research and development has grown phenomenally in the last decade. We spent in real terms, both government and business, three times as much on research and development in2007/08 than we did a decade earlier in the 1990s.
And the role of business has grown stronger each year. This growth has consolidated South Africa's national innovation eco system.
And yet this consolidation has exposed our Achilles heel: the rapid increase in R&D expenditure in South Africa has not been matched with an equally rapid increase in R&D researchers or scientists.
You only have to think about the engine-room of research in our universities, where men over the age of 50 do the bulk of the research and where half of those men over 50 are due to retire in the next five to ten years!
We have a huge renewal problem at the heart of our research and development enterprise. Which is why the internship component of this MoU is so important. It is a small thing in the broader scheme of things, but not of course in the lives of the chosen interns. But it does focus attention on the importance of nurturing a new generation of scholars and scientists in our universities.
Without them, business won’t work.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to sign this document and to launch this agreement this morning, and as a sign of the seriousness that I attach to it, I have appointed a champion for the project, a Deputy Director-General no less, who will co-chair with his Absa equivalent the joint working committee meetings.
I thank you.