The President, H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo successfully inaugurated the National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Plan (NIEP) as planned on 13th July 2016 in Accra and a proposed seed capital of USD 10.0million announced. For me, the programme signified the redeeming of the future of our country as the future survival of any races hinges on innovation.
Challenges of humanity today are multifaceted, and the complexity of the problems requires solution approach that is encompassing, structured, strategic and without boundaries as the many of the challenges are borderless.
The many innovative ideas that will get promoted under the NIEP are anticipated to offer us solutions to the myriad of problems facing us as a people. But, the processes of generating such ideas that will be sufficiently innovative will be cumbersome and daunting. There will be some ideas which will fail, some will offer glimpses of hope but will dim midway. Some will be technically not feasible as some will be feasible even on a small budget.
Documenting the many detailed failure projects and the successful ones, learning from them and availing such acumen of information to prospective innovators will be critical to the sustenance of the programme over time.
Ghana, unfortunately, has been weakly proficient at continuing and sustaining projects and programmes which transitioned different political periods. My assertion is underpinned and manifested in the many abandoned projects/programmes that never got completed in the past. Mention could be made of many of such projects including the Cape Coast Police Housing Project which was started by the Acheampong government in the 1970s. Perhaps, the most classic one was the Job 600 building which was started by Dr Nkrumah in the 1960s but only got completed recently. Such has been the sad case of how public resources get utilised. I will not end my criticism of the hitherto arbitrary discontinuation of projects without mentioning the President Special Initiative (PSIs) of the elsewhere John Agyekum Kuffour’s government. The PSI project was one of the best initiatives and had the oomph to spark the Private Sector which at that time was totally on its stoops. That one too, died as governments changed over.
The Current administration has proposed solutions by establishing the National Asset Recovery Trust (NART) which is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that abandoned projects of past governments get identified and completed. The solution, unfortunately still does not identify why those projects got abandoned and whether the NART will even survive the next administration. Also, NART seems to me as a solution to abandoned “Infrastructure Project”. In the academic literature, several reasons have been ascribed for why infrastructure projects face abandonment including but not limited to; Cost overruns, time overruns, inadequate feasibility and perceive corrupt procurement practices. In the case of flagship programmes, not much explaining exist though the problems of project abandonment also affect programmes alike. So, the fundamental question still lingers on and potentially could have an impact on the newly unveiled classy NIEP.
In my contribution to finding a solution to the legacy problem, I use the case of NIEP by looking in detail at the institutional arrangements which in my opinion has been the key reason for the many failures of past. Most of the previous projects were never anchored and integrated into the established institutions of government and most if not all, operated as “stand alone projects/programme” without proper linkage to existing systems. Even, when they got performed within particular institutions, they were worked on as special projects with Consultants or outside technocrats leading the charge.
Below I discuss some key institutions and their roles that potentially could become enablers to the sustaining of the NIEP in definite terms. I also identify the current weak linkages as exist and proposes solutions for them.
The Ministries (Business Development, Science and Technology, Trade, Finance, Education and Local Government). -The NIEP, as the President mentioned will be under the authority of the Minister for Business Development. Looking at the structure so far indicates the NIEP will be government led. Such an arrangement is not a problem as, in Countries such as Japan, China and Korea, innovation is government led. However, it is in contrast to the private sector led approach of the United States or Germany and to some extent the United Kingdom. Promoting innovation through the window of government presents in itself many challenges that must be acknowledged. The first has to do with how the Ministry of Business Development would be able to navigate the many Ministries with different interest but are relevant to the promotion of the NIEP would be substantially critical to sustaining the scheme. Conflicts are expected as the various Ministries have a different but differentiated interest which might be dichotomous with each other from time to time.
There will be the need to delineate the roles and responsibilities of each identified Ministry clearly and must work at supporting each other rather than competing each other. The potential conflict(s) may arise between the Ministry of Business Development and the Ministry of Trade and Industry [because it already has innovation related programmes], the Employment Ministry [because the youth employment programme is under that Ministry]. The other sources could be the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development [because many of the problems the NIEP seeks to address are local] and finally the Ministry of Science and Technology. The confliction situation could be turned into positive energy for the programme if managed well and most importantly with the right leadership in the Ministry of Business Development. To attenuate the potential implementation challenges at the policy level among these Ministries requires of the need to integrate innovation into the sector plans of all the MDAs with a role in Innovation enhancement identified. The integration must be done swiftly and must be regarded as an urgent matter. In so doing, NIEP would be integrated and mainstreamed, and that potentially would enable the programme to avoid jettison even in the future. Below I propose the organogram structure that in my opinion could help avoid the potential pitfalls as others in the past.
The NIEP Secretariat would have a much actors base as seen in diagram 2. below.
Diagram 2. Different Actors in NIEP
The Ghana Standards Authority – The Standards Authority is very critical to the success of the NIEP. As I alluded to in my previous writing (http://ghanatalksbusiness.com/national-entrepreneurship-innovation-plan-possible-game-changer/), the GSA must become an enabler rather than just a regulator who is independent of the innovation silo and has the power to “kill” ideas because they do not meet the standards. The GSA has the mandate of certifying the various products that get generated from ideas, and it’s so right for such a body to get involved in the development of ideas right at the inception stage. The body of knowledge of GSA would help innovators to tweak and modify their ideas to meet the standards required home and abroad.
Innovation requires deliberate and concerted approach in creating a meaningfully unique idea that addresses one challenge or the other and GSA has a role to play in the plan. Below is the formula for generating innovative ideas.
Meaningfully Unique Idea= 〖Stimulus Mining〗^(Diversity of Thinking)/(Driving out fear) or MU=S^D/F , This has been theoretically how innovative ideas gets generated and I clearly see the GSA in both Stimulus Mining and Diversity of Thinking component. GSA can only perform this when it has dedicated Unit solely focused on Innovation sprouting.
The GSA as exist today does not have a Department or Unit dealing specifically with Innovation Promotion (https://www.gsa.gov.gh/about-gsa/our-awesome-team/). Such a Department or Unit is critical and important as it will liaise with other relevant bodies in sprouting Innovators under the NIEP. The goal of such a Unit must be supporting innovators right at the inception stage, so that product/services that get horn eventually gains international acceptability. It would also reduce the product/service development period as projects already receiving technical assistance from the Innovation Promotion Unit are less likely not to receive certification by the GSA.
Universities in Ghana and Research Institution – The Universities and Research Institutions that are heavy on innovation nurturing should become the ultimate candidates for collaboration with the NIEP Secretariat for this programme. The Universities are the hub of knowledge, and their academic interest transcends political periods. If our Universities buy-in to this novelty of the idea and devote research time to it, it will surely be positive, and much of the decisions to be made on a particular project(s) applications will get done on the basis on empirical indagations. However, the situation as exist today in most Universities is one that has insufficient capacity to partner the programme for the desired outcome readily.
For the Universities and the Research Institutions, to fully and able to support the NIEP implementation requires of Government and the Universities to establish Innovation Engineering centres and integration of Innovation Programmes into their curriculum. The Universities should be the hub for nurturing innovative ideas, and the NIEP must ensure it does recognise them as such rather than creating another body to perform the same function.
Private Sector – the private sector remains one of the beneficiaries of the NIEP as new ideas that would get generated potentially would enable them to expand their market. In other that they benefit substantially means they must get on board, contribute to funding, human resources and materials to support the many activities NIEP. The big companies could run specific programmes under the NIEP with the aim of identifying intrapreneurs who can work on specific innovations of interest to the particular business. Such is the win-win environment being created by the NIEP and must be embraced swiftly as the benefits are gigantic.
Others (Think-tanks, NGOs, etc.) – many other institutions are relevant to the implementation of NIEP that are not discussed thoroughly in this piece. But, it is worthy of mentioning that the NIEP implementation body should always seek the views of Think-tanks, NGOs, and individuals with knowledge of innovation planning. Through that the NIEP implementation would be enriched with variegated contributions from different segment of society with different interest which ultimately will make the programme better.
Some specific activities that have huge implication for the implementation of the NIEP also require mentioning. The first significant business would be the promotion of Innovation development competitions among all interested in innovation. Innovation competitions have proven to be a good breeding grounds for unearthing new ideas and has been used extensively by international organisations around the world in generating fresh ideas. The second activity would require the expansion of the various academic programmes like the famous Science and Mathematics Quiz to include a new segment that looks at the application of scientific knowledge to solving social issues. Such approach would enable participants to appreciate the adaptability of theoretical science to solving life’s problems. Finally, the promotion of Peer to Peer programmes among different actors where each innovator has the chance to showcase his or her invention to colleagues and receive constructive feedback is equally important to consider under the NIEP. Peer to peer programmes is one of the most potent means in sifting relevant information from different groups.
I conclude by saying that indeed, the government has remained committed to finding a permanent solution to the challenges in job creation, in expanding the Ghanaian indigenous business, in developing the business niche of Ghanaians, and importantly, in providing a new path for economic diversification. But, the job is not yet done, in fact, it just got started. Those with the responsibility for moving the NIEP must not rest until we have a fully functioning system. As the President said during the launch of the NIEP and I quote…“I am passionate about the Plan working. I am investing a lot in it, and I have in the Minister for Business Development, Ibrahim Awal Mohammed, who has devised the plan, and will be in charge of seeing it to fruition”. Such zealousness of the President must guide us in discharging the onus responsibility upon us and we must remain committed to the course.
Author: Henry, KYEREMEH