Rwanda aims to invest over one percent of its GDP into research, technology and innovation by 2020. This is a massive increase from the 2014 investment level of just 0.16%.

The Government of Rwanda commissioned Technopolis Group to turn this aim into reality by supporting the work of the National Council for Science and Technology – which has the mandate to enable Rwanda to become a country based on science, technology and innovation. Their mandate also includes raising funds, advising the government, regulating the sector and cooperating regionally and internationally.

Many Lower-Income Countries are now working towards Middle Income Country status with great success which is an interesting global change. Rwanda has been growing steadily year on year and earned a reputation as one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.

From Education to Research to Innovation

In order to move from research to innovation, a good education and economic base are essential. This means jobs to go into, a culture of entrepreneurship and a good start-up economy.

Rwanda has a good system of primary education and is now investing heavily to improve secondary education and the numbers of children completing their studies. The countries education sector strategic plan has the goal of making quality twelve-year basic education available for all children.

The next step is the university system, which is also improving, expanding and diversifying. However, there are several challenges to overcome. One, in particular, is the lack of trained researchers with PhDs, which hampers the research and innovation potential. This is an area of investment priority for the Rwandan Government. There are other issues with building the innovation system, such as current low levels of interaction between the research base and industry, lack of infrastructure and stable investment.

Rwanda’s Six Priority Areas

For Technopolis Group, this request by the Government of Rwanda to help support the strategy for research and innovation is one of the first assignments with a national government in Africa. It is a testbed for both Technopolis Group and Rwanda’s National Council for Science and Technology.

The focus of the new research and innovation strategy is to concentrate on the unique challenges for Rwanda and find funding models which stimulate the acceleration of change rather than follow a more traditional path of incremental expansion of the research base.    

The Government of Rwanda has taken a critical look at their country and asked what the problems are. Rwanda is an agricultural economy, so they need agricultural innovation; they’re vulnerable to climate change and it’s essential they have a resilient environment; digital resources are important for a modern economy and has helped open up the country.

Their goal is to prioritise research into the following six areas: sustainable energy; local production and value addition; food security and modern agriculture; digital services, products and lifestyles; life and health sciences; resilient environment and natural resources.

The Technopolis Group project has helped the government of Rwanda to set an agenda for addressing these issues – as well as funding procedures that can be used by research consortiums to apply for grants.  

A key factor is that it must be flexible. Each of the priority areas needs to be constantly checked to make sure it’s targeting one of Rwanda’s challenges.

A Step Change for Rwanda

By addressing their challenges, Rwanda has the potential to become one of the best countries in Africa for research. Not only would this boost the economy, but it would also attract the diaspora back.

The strategic framework that the Technopolis Group project set up with the National Council for Science and Technology gives Rwanda a framework under which they can consider where they can invest in research to gain the most benefit. This hasn’t happened in Rwanda before as there have been no formal guidelines about where to invest strategically in research and development.

Having these guidelines in place, holding these discussions, being able to create groups of expert researchers to debate with government policymakers – will be a huge change for this country.

This is not the only work taking place in Rwanda. The country is looking at its science, research and innovation system from a number of different perspectives. Technopolis Group is currently helping the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) to establish a joint STEM Industrial Product Development Facility. The plan is for the new facility to act as an industrial technology incubation hub for industrial innovators, drawing on STEM to develop industrial products, access advanced technologies, acquire and upgrade technical industrial skills and improve business capabilities. The industrial product development facility will bring together private innovators, experienced industrial mentors, academia, and other key stakeholders, widening the debate and acting to develop new infrastructure.

Incentives for research and development are also important and as part of a project for the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), on behalf of the European Commission, Technopolis is reviewing the intellectual property policy and regulation in Rwanda.

Rwanda has acted swiftly to bring together a new Agenda and improve the conditions for research and innovation in the country. There is reason to feel inspired, and full of ambition, as they start the process of raising funds and driving their research and innovation system.

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