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IDDS D’kar Will Draw Upon Botswana’s Innovation, Entrepreneurial Spirit & Traditional Knowledge to Foster Economic Development

Monday, July 6, 2015
Thabiso Blak Mashaba

In early August, the small San settlement of D’kar on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in western Botswana will be the venue of a unique and pioneering event: the International Development Design Summit D’kar 2015.

In collaboration with the University of Botswana’s Department of Industrial Engineering, IDDS D’Kar aims to connect and train the San people and design summit participants from around Botswana and the globe in the basics of user-based technology design and business development process as they work together in diverse teams to co-create technologies that address particular local development challenges.

The San communities are some of the most creative in Botswana with a rich heritage of local knowledge and adaptive practices. However, they are also among the poorest and most marginalized people of the country.

For the Government of Botswana, a big potential for economic development lies in the recognition and appreciation of the vast amount of traditional knowledge and practices of its people. It is the role of the state to encourage and reward entrepreneurship, innovation, technological advancement, scientific exploration, and groundbreaking ideas that will contribute to further economic growth and social welfare of the country. IDDS D’kar hopes to inspire government, civil society and every citizen of Botswana with tangible dreams and concrete results in the form of innovative prototypes and ventures that improve people’s lives.

Since its independence, Botswana has seen great economic growth, but relatively little economic development. The economy needs to be diversified in order for the economic development to be sustainable and citizens need to be encouraged and empowered to show more initiative and play a larger role in their own economic development and that of the nation as a whole.

The Government of Botswana has invested hope, energy, and resources in the future of the country: the youth. Education and skills development have led to a more educated youth population than ever before. However, the levels of unemployment amongst this large group of educated youth are currently high. This is not only a consequence of recent economic downturn; it could also indicate poor quality of education and poor preparation of graduates by the education system to be flexible, innovative and to show initiative and an entrepreneurial spirit. If Botswana’s young people can be inspired and stimulated to develop these attributes, there is a great potential for much needed growth of citizen economic empowerment and private sector expansion.

The underlying principle for citizen economic empowerment in Botswana should be to promote social cohesion and harmony, to promote a notion of nationhood and pride and to maximize potential of human capital as well as to reduce both absolute and relative poverty. Meaningful citizen participation and initiative is essential to make this succeed.

Recognizing the urgent need for the diversification of the economic drivers of the nation, as well as the importance of the human capital in the development of the country, the Government of Botswana has identified the cultural and creative Industries as a key sector for economic development and growth. It is deemed essential for the development of the country to build on people’s individual creativity, skills and talent and to create the right environment for people to stimulate the use and development of these traits, especially through grassroots innovations and vocational skills application.

Through technological innovation, Africa has the potential to construct more wealth in the next 35 years, than it amassed in all of history. Rather than simply ‘copy-pasting’ knowledge, practices, and technologies from western countries, a context specific approach which leaves space for using local products and using local people combined with the application of first world innovations and technological advancements can “leapfrog” African countries from the status of not-yet fully industrialized society towards an advanced and prosperous multi-local economy.

Huge potential lies in the fact that Africa has the largest growing middle class of the world, who will require socially innovative technological products and services to provide for rising needs in education, housing, transport, telecommunication, technology, finances, protection of their households and business appliances. The local context of a relatively young and more mobile market, cultural and historically different (and diverse across African states) customs concerning money, livelihoods, investment and entrepreneurship, as well as the potential benefits of extractable energy, potential for the use of sustainable green energy sources, and a changing mindset amongst the African (and international) youth and influential people directed towards the ‘social good’ are all factors to be considered when thinking about innovation and (social and economic) development of African countries such as Botswana.

Innovative societies emerge through cascading leadership and processes of infective social learning that lifts the confidence and status of members to apply, express and share their competence. Therefore, the inherent creative abilities of Botswana’s youth need to be tapped to encourage such endemic innovativeness. Design is a bridge between creativity and innovation. It serves as a key source of differentiation, competitive advantage and value creation to drive economic development. Driven by a human-centered design approach to technology innovation, the success of every day problem solving rooted in traditional knowledge and practices can be strengthened and applied.

An initiative such as IDDS D’kar, will plant the seeds that are needed to grow confidence and conviction among Botswana as a nation and the San community in particular that creative innovation rooted in a combination of traditional and modern technologies can contribute to development and social welfare of local communities. It will increase meaningful citizen participation and inspire innovativeness, creativity, autonomy and entrepreneurship as strong yet peaceful weapons to reduce poverty and increase social well being. 

Thabiso Blak Mashaba is an IDIN Network member and the lead organizer for IDDS D'kar 2015 as well as IDDS Botswana 2016. You can follow all of the updates from IDDS D'kar on their summit blog