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Innovation an indispensable aspect of national development

by Byron Adonis Mutingwende
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Dr. Jenfan Muswere, the Minister of Information Communication Technology (ICT), Postal and Courier Services has said innovation plays a critical role in national development.

He made the remarks in his keynote address during the official opening of the 2020 Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ) Hackathon held at the Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel today.

“Given the critical role Innovation plays in National development, this event could not have come at a more opportune time, considering that, only last month, His Excellency, the President, Cde. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa launched the National Development Strategy (NDS1), which is underpinned by Human Capital Development and Innovation as one of the fourteen national priorities for the period 2021 – 2025.

“This economic blueprint, which provides a roadmap in our journey “Towards a prosperous and empowered Upper-Middle Income society by 2030”, is anchored on Innovation and a Knowledge-Driven Economy, Minister Muswere said.

In pursuit of the National Development Strategy (2021-2025), the National Vision 2030, and the Smart Zimbabwe 2030 Master Plan, the ICT Ministry has crafted its Strategic Plan for the period 2021-2023, which is hinged on four core values namely, Transparency, Professionalism, Creativity, and Teamwork.

Minister Muswere said creativity is at the centre of our aspirations at the ICT Ministry as they persistently encourage and recognise innovation and inventiveness as key enablers for the digital economy.

POTRAZ is seized with a facilitative role that encourages innovation and uptake of new technologies and the hackathon resonates very well with that mandate. It is for this reason that the ICT Ministry fully supports initiatives by POTRAZ to encourage innovativeness in the ICT sector.

Dr. Gift Machengete, the Director-General of POTRAZ alluded to the fact that humans have survived for long on planet earth because they could innovate.

“Innovation is the bedrock of our very existence, the pinnacle of our survival, the fibre of our being. Innovation is about empowerment and renewal. Innovation is about growth and development,” he said.

The 2020 Hackathon has seen teams competing in proffering the most relevant ICT solutions to solve post-COVID–19 socio-economic challenges that may hinder the country’s efforts towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Unlike the first Hackathon, which was only open to universities, this edition was open to all Zimbabweans who are passionate about technology and innovation and have an idea or an existing innovation that fits the running theme.

Applications for the competition opened on 9 November 2020, and closed on 22 November 2020, with a total of fifty-three (53) valid applications having been received. Three (3) applications were received after the deadline and these were not accepted.

Adjudication was done on the basis of an agreed template by an adjudication team comprising six (6) external judges, drawn from academia and two from POTRAZ.

Out of the fifty-three (53) applications received, only twelve (12) teams scored 50% or better, which was the lowest threshold for a proposal to be supported under the Innovation Drive. Four of the successful teams are from here in Bulawayo, four are from Harare and there was one team each from Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Mash Central, and Masvingo Provinces.

The innovators have been camped at Rainbow Hotel from Wednesday this week to develop their prototypes.

From this exercise, the judges will come up with the best 5 innovations that will receive grants for product development.

The ICT Innovation Drive is aimed at identifying, supporting and capacitating ICT innovators in the country, in order to develop their ideas into bankable solutions for Zimbabwe and the global market.

The main objectives of the Innovation Drive are:  

  • to increase ICT research and development as well as ICT uptake by young innovators and research institutions in Zimbabwe;
  • to increase the total number of home grown ICT applications and create employment;
  • to promote a culture of ICT innovation and development among Zimbabwean youths;
  • to establish innovation hubs within the country and;
  • to provide business and technopreneural training and incubation services to young innovators within the country.

“In view of the SDGs, we are proud to be rolling out this project because ICTs and Innovation are a major driver of development. New ICTs overcome the barriers of distance and time, and significantly improve the accessibility of information and knowledge. ICTs are also a key element in mitigating the impact of unforeseen events such as natural disasters and pandemics such as COVID – 19. Furthermore, ICTs enhance the productivity of firms while increasing their overall efficiency, thus contributing to economic growth and development,” Dr. Machengete added.

The POTRAZ Director-General said post-COVID – 19, ICTs would be fundamental in ensuring continuity of business as well as continuity of service delivery in sectors such as health and education among others. He said such continuity is needed as humans are likely to be living under a new normal, a new normal which may demand less physical interaction, hence changing our way of life.

This new normal will certainly come with a myriad of challenges for business, society, and government at large. It is for this reason that society needs innovators to try and find solutions to the problems of the future.    

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