16 April 2007
More than half of South Africa’s companies engaged in innovative activities in the form of the development of new products and processes between 2002 and 2004, according to the first official South African Innovation Survey.
The survey, conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council on behalf of the Department of Science and Technology, found that South Africa compares favourably with countries like Sweden (where 50% of enterprises are innovative), the United Kingdom (43%) and Portugal (41%).
Modelled on the innovation survey used in all European Union countries in 2005/06, the survey provides internationally comparable data on innovation in SA’s mining, manufacturing, wholesale, retail and services sectors, while giving an overall indication of innovative behaviour among companies.
Announcing the results of the survey at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange last week, Deputy Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said South African businessess “are not being complacent and are responding to changes in their environment by producing new or significantly changed goods, services and processes.
“Our rate of innovation is well above that of the European average of 42% for 2004.”
According to the survey, SA companies spent in the region of R27.8-billion on innovative activities in 2004, representing about 2.4% of the total turnover of all business covered in the industrial and service sectors.
While the bulk of this expenditure was devoted to the acquisition of new machinery, equipment and software, in-house research and development (R&D) expenditure accounted for about 20% of total innovation expenditure.
“Bearing in mind that the innovation survey is a random sample of business enterprises and is not focused on R&D or technology-orientated firms, this result serves to confirm the importance of R&D for the competitiveness of business in the country,” Hanekom said.
“It is particularly gratifying to note that apart from the expected large R&D performers in South Africa, there appear to be many diverse businesses undertaking small amounts of R&D,” the deputy minister added.
The survey indicated that about 10% of successful innovators – businesses whose innovations were responsible for part of their turnover – had received public funding for activities.
South African government R&D support schemes include the Technology for Human Resources in Industry Programme, the Innovation Fund, the agency grants of the National Research Foundation, and the Support Programme for Industrial Innovation.
Hanekom said it was important for the government to extend its support and encourage such enterprises to persevere and grow their R&D expenditures.
Innovation, he said, was “widely recognised as one of the most important mechanisms through which technology can be leveraged to create wealth, leap-frog developmental backlogs and contribute towards a better quality of life for all.”