Friday, October 01, 2021

Supporting Economic Growth Through Innovation and Entrepreneurship



By John A. Akec*


Institutions are established in order to carry out specific mandates. At the University of Juba, for example, our mandate has been captured by our mission statement as commitment to: “national economic empowerment and social transformation through provision of quality education, pursuit of relevant research, promotion of innovation, facilitation of technology transfer, revival of national cultural heritage, protection of environment, and service to community.”


In our Vision 2030, we aim “… to become a dynamic regional and world-class centre of excellence in teaching, research, innovation, and service to community...” Our driving motto is “Inventing the Future, Transforming Society.” Our strategic goals include serving communities, assisting in the nation’s integration into global knowledge-based economy, and facilitation of transfer of technology and know-how to key economic sectors.


Every single word in our mission, vision, motto, and strategic goals is for a reason – it underpins our actions and guides every project we undertake. To be brutally truthful, our world is replete with institutions whose missions and visions lie dormant on their walls, hanged at their gates and buildings entrances to inspire visitors, while bearing no measurable relevance to the kind of projects and programmes these institutions embark on. It is a bit like telling family and friends that you are travelling to Yambio, when in fact you are onboard a Nairobi-bound flight. It is absurd! Certainly, we at the University of Juba strive, within our means, to implement strategies and pursue goals that are closely aligned to our stated mission and guiding vision.


It is worth noting that “innovation” appears in our mission statement and Vision 2030. Although not explicitly mentioned in any of our strategic goals, innovation is the vehicle through which our university aims to serve communities, help the country to compete in the global marketplace, and facilitate transfer of technology to key economic sectors such as energy, communications, agriculture, and manufacturing. Innovation, according to Clayton Christensen (2019), is “…the change in process by which an organisation transforms labour, capital, materials, and information into products and services of greater value.”


In prosperous societies, economic agents called entrepreneurs, employ innovation to introduce new products and services. These innovations create new startup companies (as most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are), open up markets, create jobs, and boost incomes for thousands of people and thereby enhance prosperity across the board.  An example of innovation that created markets is automobiles. Another markets-creating-innovation is the penetration of mobile phones globally, which not only allowed us to communicate and transfer money, but also have put computers and TV sets in our pockets. These innovations have created millions of jobs locally and globally in research and development, design, manufacturing, distribution, training, advertising, sales, insurance, maintenance, and service. Nevertheless, there are millions of smaller, albeit less known, innovations that have served local communities. Here, the entrepreneurs were able to solve particular problems facing their immediate communities. Many innovations have grown into global brands such as Apple, Amazon, Alibaba, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and the like. They all started small.  


Innovation and entrepreneurship are essential tools in spurring economic growth and lifting millions out of poverty globally, as they provide the means for exploiting available local or national resources to their full potential in such a way as to improve livelihoods and raise the quality of life for millions. Far from being job seekers, entrepreneurs are job creators.


While many individuals have natural entrepreneurial gift, entrepreneurship can be cultivated. Through training, individuals can acquire new lenses through which to view old problems and spot new opportunities, understand financial and people management, know how to build great teams, able to raise finances, and equipped to take calculated risks.


In August 2021, the University of Juba launched a new master’s programme- a multidisciplinary Master of Science in Entrepreneurship. About 70 students have enrolled. All of them have a bachelor degree. They come from different educational backgrounds; some from social sciences (mainly business and economics) and others from science-based specializations (agricultural science and natural resources and veterinary medicine). Our goal is to produce postgraduates with knowledge and skills that enable them to conceive business ideas in areas of their interest and start their own micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).


This, for us, is a giant step towards living up to our stated mission and vision.


*This article was first published in Juvarsity Newsletter in September 2021


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