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Innovative Africa by Mariam Osman

iMonday, Sep 30th, 2013 comments by jamielee

innovation [ in-uh-vey-shuhn]


  1. something new or different introduced
  2. the act of innovating – introduction of new things or methods.                          (

The second definition is quite appropriate for engineers. It is, after all, what they do – constantly try to discover new ways to improve the world. But does it follow that every new thing or method will work for every single person and place on our planet? History has shown that it does not. Can every country on earth afford to implement the same kind of innovation? Once again, no, they cannot. And does every innovation succeed in its purpose to improve on something? Not always.

On Wednesday, 3 June 2013, SAWomEng held its fourth annual @Network Cocktail Evening. Yes, one of its purposes is to be an exercise in networking – professionals from different sectors coming together. What distinguished this event was that its theme was not intended to dictate your dress code; rather to steer your way of thinking towards a particular vision – Innovation in Africa.


On the panel for the evening: Carlos de Figueiredo, an IBM executive; Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, chemical engineer with 20 years’ experience in the Oil and Gas industry; Rashiq Fataar, founder and managing director of FutureCapeTown; and Sarah O’ Carroll, industry analyst for Frost and Sullivan. After a welcome by co-founder, Naadiya Moosajee, the floor was handed over to Mabohlale Addae, also a co-founder of SAWomEng, to chair the panel discussion.

Each of the panellists gave valid opening remarks, however, it was the statements from the ladies on the panel that particularly resonated with me...firstly, that innovation on Africa should be contextualised for its unique people, circumstances and needs, and should not be ‘cut and paste from the Eurocentric paradigm’; and secondly, that innovation should start on a small scale, by ordinary people improving the mundane things in their lives.

To see anything fulfil its intended purpose is immensely satisfying and once the audience members joined the discussion, @Network was at work.

It was great to see and hear from people from seemingly unrelated industries share their unique perspectives on the topic and simultaneously impart some unspoken truths – innovation is not owned by government or corporate bodies, nor does one need a diploma or degree to be innovative; we are all interdependent for the growth and advancement of our country and continent, and need to learn to share and collaborate; and as long as we remain consumers of Western innovation, we will never be able to innovate for our own country.

Our continent faces some extreme challenges. We continue to take advice from people who do not live here, nor face the same challenges we do, when we have an abundance of educated and energetic young people who are better equipped to face and overcome those challenges.

I found myself, in spite of myself, thinking about ways in which I could be innovative...things I could do in my home and in my work place. I found myself no longer content to just live in the present, to amble on in the comfortable little world that I’ve built for myself and remain blissfully oblivious to what is happening on my doorstep. I was forced to look to tomorrow...and how I could play a role in making it better than today.

The lessons I came away with that evening are encapsulated in the following:

-“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard

-“The practice of R and D involves making mistakes, realizations, corrections and more mistakes. Trial and error is a fundamental part of the process. Too many managers in corporate America learn to avoid invention and new thinking because they have been convinced that their careers depend upon not making mistakes.” – Tom Huff

In light of this particular evening and the above two quotes, I’d like to put forth my new definition for ‘innovation’: Observe. Learn. Realize. Correct...And repeat.

by Mariam Osman


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