The Southern Africa Innovation Support (SAIS) programme was established by the Finnish Foreign Affairs Ministry four years ago to help drive innovation in Southern Africa in an endeavour to encourage economic and social well-being. SAIS works in partnership with individuals, institutions and existing networks to stimulate product, service and social innovation in southern African countries. Zambia, as a SAIS partner, hopes to enhance innovation in the country in the expectation that it will make a positive contribution to economic growth, which should ultimately improve the lives of its citizens.
A Regional Connect (RC) project, backed by the SAIS programme, was piloted as a potential building block for the stimulation of growth and development across the region of Zambia and Namibia. The RC project was introduced as an open innovation (OI) mediation model for southern Africa. Over recent decades organisations have progressively begun to incorporate external technologies into their innovation processes through alliances, partnerships and in-licensing, termed ‘open innovation’ by Chesbrough (2003). Organisations do so to source actual innovations, knowledge, technical inventions, market knowledge, innovation components or other information in support of the innovation
process of the organisation (Bogers & West, 2012). The OI mediation model under discussion undertakes to connect seekers of solutions to providers thereof through the RC platform. The objective of the RC project is to encourage innovation across the region, which should ultimately promote economic growth across the two partner countries.
The focus of this paper is predominantly on the role played by Zambia, particularly the National Technology Business Centre (NTBC), within the context of the RC project. The aim is to highlight the opportunities, successes and challenges around the project which can provide input for the potential replication of the project across other southern African countries while at the same time helping to shape the sustainability of the model per se. Although Zambia’s economic growth has been robust (6% growth in 2014), the economy is sensitive to agricultural and commodity risks, such as poor agricultural harvests and fluctuating commodity prices (Mukanga, 2015).
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