Youth urged to use science, technology and innovation for change

More than 300 young people engaged with the government and other institutions at an indaba focused on creating opportunities relating to science, technology and innovation.

youth science indaba innovation
Young people should be at the centre of all global change and innovations, says Bavelile Hlongwa of the National Youth Development Agency, at the Youth in Science, Technology and Innovation Indaba on 9 and 10 June 2017. More than 300 young delegates engaged with organisations such as the agency. (Image: Melissa Javan)

Melissa Javan
Young Africans were encouraged to take up the opportunities available in science, technology and innovation by Mmampei Chaba, chief director of multilateral co-operation and Africa in the Department of Science and Technology. She was one of the speakers at the Youth in Science, Technology and Innovation Indaba, held on 9 and 10 June 2017.

More than 300 young people from all over the country attended the event, which was hosted at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria. The theme of the indaba was “Creating opportunities for youth through science, technology and innovation”. It was a platform for attendees to share ideas and possibly get funding to scale up their ideas.

On 9 June, during discussions, the youth were able to engage with government and youth-led agencies such as the National Youth Development Agency, the South African Youth Chamber of Commerce, the South African Youth Council and the SAB Foundation.

On the second day of the indaba there were sessions related to pitching your innovation or business. The sessions included an introduction to innovation, pitching fundamentals, different types of pitches, and linking your business model and business plan to your pitch.

Delegates were young people with an interest in using technology to innovate, some of whom were using science to solve some of the common problems in their communities, said the department.

The objectives of the indaba

The indaba was aligned to the National Development Plan (NDP) of 2030, said Dr Phil Mjwara, director-general in the department. “The indaba is held as the second phase of the NDP. The implementation of the second phase is to put more emphasis on the inclusion of the youth.”

We were to disrupt the way we lived, he said. The aim was to create opportunities for youth through science, technology and innovation. Mjwara said the points adopted by the indaba included strengthening what already worked and addressing any gaps.

The opportunities

Mmampei Chaba, chief director of multilateral co-operation and Africa, spoke on “An African perspective on youth in science, technology and innovation”.

She listed different opportunities in the sector on the continent. “We have a number of pan-African financial supporters.”

Several youth strategy initiatives existed through the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Chaba said. “We also have South African-funded SADC science, technology and innovation initiatives.”

In addition, 26 bilateral agreements in Africa gave young people study opportunities.

Other initiatives included:
• Pharmaceutical company SANBio supported youth and women bio-entrepreneurs in southern Africa;
• Biosciences youth ambassador programmes; and
• And the youth in fish agriculture programme.

Immense potential

science youth naledi pandor
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor says youth employment is important to build a sustainable society, at the Youth in Science, Technology and Innovation Indaba, held on 9 and 10 June 2017. Startups are the heart of the economy. “It is the innovators and entrepreneurs who will create jobs. We have to think beyond here and now.” (Image Melissa Javan)

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said South Africa had such brilliant young people, but as a country we tended to undermine ourselves. She urged the youth to not let people call them the lost generation. “You have potential that is immense. You are not lost as a youth.”

One of the challenges was that youth lacked information, Pandor said. “Many of our people do not know the institutions and what they do. We must talk among ourselves [to share information]. Knowledge is our armour. It is part of what you use to fight for change.”

The minister encouraged young people to look at the different sectors in science, technology and innovation, especially the manufacturing and industrial sectors. However, not everybody could be a grassroots innovator. “Don’t neglect the need for knowledge workers. We need more and more young researchers. You are at your best before you are 30.”

Pandor shared examples of young people who had made a difference in their communities through innovation, such as Ludwick Marishane. Marishane, a young man from Limpopo, developed a gel used to wash without water, responding to the need to save water in the water-scarce southern African region.

“Ludwick knew what it was like when he was growing up in a township in Limpopo and so he dreamed up a type of gel that people can use to clean themselves – without water – when he was a pupil, and developed it into an award-winning product when he was a student,” said Pandor.

She urged the youth to help school learners who struggled with maths and science subjects. “You might have the opportunity to lift the numbers of the maths and science. It could be a business opportunity.

“We cannot afford the low levels of maths and science performance [in schools].”

In the past 10 years, she said, 34 new science centres had opened in the South Africa — an achievement.

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