Innovation for development

14th March 2024

Innovation for development

Boosting socio-economic development in South Africa through research and innovation, is at the core of the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) mandate.  The Department’s current science, technology and innovation (STI) policy is targeted at increasing the responsiveness of the national system of innovation to national priorities and socio-economic needs. It emphasises using STI to support improving service delivery, policy coherence, inclusivity and transformation. We have committed ourselves to using science, technology and innovation as catalysts for faster and inclusive economic growth, in the short and longer term, as per the National Development Plan.

The DSI is committed to building the science and technology pipeline and to broadening representation in science and technology, making sure that young people, women and people with disabilities are mainstreamed in science-related careers and education at all levels.

Other areas of importance are the development of human capabilities, knowledge expansion, innovation performance and increased investment that will result in the economic, socio-political and intellectual benefits of STI being enjoyed by all South Africans.

In the 2022 Global Innovation Index, South Africa was considered one of the most technologically advanced countries in Africa and was rated the most innovative region in sub-Saharan Africa. The advancement is owing to the DSI’s forward-thinking in embracing innovations that will put the country on the map and grow the economy. Now the DSI actively supports new industries based on new sources of growth, for example, the circular and digital economies, indigenous knowledge-based bio-innovation and fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. The NSI strives to increase the conversion of research ideas and knowledge into products and services. Support for grassroots innovators is another driver for economic recovery. Growing the NSI is also about accelerating inclusivity and supporting new entrants into the economy especially small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and cooperatives, using targeted research, development and innovation instruments.

The Role of Partnerships

The DSI understands there is no shortage of remarkable ideas or people and it supports and funds some initiatives to enable local innovations to scale for business, drive efficiencies, improve speed to market, reduce costs and support the needs of society.

To achieve this goal, partnerships are crucial, and the Department has been involved in several collaborations in the circular economy, health innovation and the digital economy.

In the circular economy, what is needed is the capability to develop new ways so that local innovations support conversion technology – which converts a waste matter to something useful – that can be used to live sustainably and compete globally. The Department partners with some of the most innovative minds and companies to make the circular economy viable and supportable.

Some of these partnerships include the Bio-refinery Industry Development Facility (BIDF), an organisation focussing on extracting maximum value from biomass and biomass waste, with a strong focus on the forestry, paper and pulp industries. The facility supports large industry and SMMEs in their research and development, pilot scale testing and evaluation, and development of technologies for processing biomass.

Through the Department’s work in health innovation, meaningful partnerships and business relationships have been developed. The DSI supports and empowers nuclear medicine research and drug development, the manufacturing of vaccines and active pharmaceutical ingredients, the development of tests used for diagnostics, as well as harness indigenous knowledge for product development.

Working with nuclear research centre Nuclear Medicine Research Infrastructure (NuMeRi) allows the DSI to make this important technology available to public and private hospitals, universities, pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies, and medical practitioners, both locally and internationally.

NuMeRI is a one-stop-shop medical nuclear imaging and therapeutic facility dedicated to drug development and clinical research for the benefit of the South African, African and global healthcare sectors. As a research facility, it provides enabling support for healthcare research and development to academia and commercial healthcare companies (pharmaceutical and biotechnology). Its purpose is to facilitate research, innovation and value generation in areas of country- and region-specific health challenges.

The digital landscape is changing all the time, with new advancements occurring daily. There are no shortages of remarkable ideas or people, what is needed is the ability to tap into local innovations so that they can be used to open new economies, scale business, drive efficiencies, improve speed to market, reduce costs and compete internationally.

The Department is leveraging the digital economy to build and grow our country. It supports multiple market sectors by providing access to space and earth observation data to inform decision-making. It is enabling innovation with supercomputing capabilities, high-speed networks and technical support to fast-track research and make it more accurate and reliable. Through partnerships, it is connecting isolated communities to reliable and affordable internet, and enabling a more productive workplace.

Space Science is not just about exploring other worlds, it is also about observing our own world so that we can make it a better place for humankind. The South African National Space Agency  provides access to products and services that include earth observation, space science, communication and navigation. These services are used by multiple stakeholders across a wide variety of sectors.  The data applications assist in forecasting, informing policymaking, enabling decision-making that supports socio-economic growth in South Africa.Opportunities for Investment

Support for new industries is the ethos of the Department’s new Decadal Plan for Science, Technology and Innovation that the Cabinet adopted in 2022. Through several policy, governance and funding interventions, the plan seeks to enhance its national consensus, coordination and cooperation, including through enhanced Public-Private Partnerships, to put science, technology and innovation at the heart of South Africa’s growth and development agenda.

There are enormous opportunities for investment in South African science, technology and innovation. Across the globe, government and industry are increasingly working together to address the complex socio-economic challenges facing humanity. In South Africa, government cannot achieve this mission alone. Public-private sector partnerships are key. Governments and business leaders are increasingly pooling their skills and financial resources to rebuild their economies three years after the Covid-19 pandemic decimated communities across the world. The DSI believes South Africans should work together to build a new economy and use innovation to drive a development agenda and the creation of an inclusive economy.

For more information contact Sanelisiwe Qwemeshe at