In one of my articles I highlighted that SMEs have become increasingly central to the development of economies. That’s why the start-ups revolution is now a global scramble where mostly young and dynamic people are birthing great business initiatives. Now, the most important attributes akin to all this are innovation & creativity. Particularly because of the disruptive & revolutionary technological breakthroughs, amazing businesses are now coming onto the scene. For many developed countries which have attained global reign, it’s because they have realized the need to heavily invest in research & development initiatives. Research & development are so intimately key to fostering creativity & innovation, aspects of which are now key ingredients that guarantee business success in this century.

What Is R&D?

This refers to activities & processes done, whose main thrust is to come up with novel products or services. However, it’s not only that, it also entails innovations on already available products or services, improving them or adapting them to the rapidly changing environment we now live in.

An Unforgettable Epiphany In 2012

Sometime in 2012 I attended a public lecture that forever changed my life. I was a student at Chinhoyi University and one thing really stood out to me from that lecture. It was presented by an Israeli academic who wanted to enunciate on how vast the Zimbabwean potential is. He categorically made it clear that one of the reasons why we aren’t tapping into the limitless potential of this nation is our seemingly indifferent attitude towards the importance of R&D to nation development. This hit me hard and never left my mind. As such I’m excited to be discussing this subject here.

How To Conduct R&D?

This is done in many different ways but there are two common ways namely, applied research & basic research. Applied research deals with having a specific area of functionality that you want to understand more so that you see how best to innovate it. For instance investigating the impact of replacing diesel 500 with diesel 50 (which means less sulphur content in diesel) on cars & the environment can be an area of applied research. Basic research is concerned with a holistic analysis of a whole product or service so as to note areas that might need innovation.

Who Ought To Be The Key Players?

I posit that the most instrumental players in research & development should be government, businesses & academic institutions. Synergies must be developed such that these 3 work together to heighten R&D in Zimbabwe. Government & businesses are central to funding obligations and academic institutions are central to the creative & innovative initiatives. Ideally, government & businesses ought to partner with academic institutions to identify brilliant minds that can conduct R&D activities. The unfortunate scenario in Zimbabwe is that many final year projects are just formalities, whereas in other countries they are the nurseries of many start-ups that subsequently become huge businesses. For instance, Google started off as a research project for a PhD program but now it’s a global business.

Current State Of R&D In Zimbabwe

Sadly there is no significant empirical data available as to just how much money is channelled towards R&D in this country. The only time I recall where there was some figure released was some time in 2011 where less than US$5 million had been channelled toward R&D by government. This obviously implies that we are still lagging far behind in our commitment to fostering R&D, this holds true both for government & businesses.

The Need For R&D Infrastructure

We have very little R&D infrastructure in the country, most of which is seriously ailing due to lack of funding. It’s imperative that government & businesses invest more in R&D infrastructure. There is an agriculture research institute in Mazowe called Henderson Research Institute; we definitely need more of such infrastructure for all our industries.

Where Should R&D Focus Mainly Be?

R&D efforts, especially nowadays, should focus more on the tech industry. Last year Huawei Technologies filed 4024 international patent applications, making it the company with the highest number of such applications globally. Amazon, which is the biggest company by valuation globally (worth over 1 trillion dollars), last year, invested US$22.6 billion dollars in R&D making it the highest globally in that regard. What’s my point? Our R&D focus should be on technological innovations.

A Look At Israel In Comparison To Zimbabwe

Israel is quite small; only 8.1 million people & an area of 20 770km2. Whereas Zimbabwe is approximately 17 million people with an area of 390 757 km2. However, Israel has always topped all countries in the world with respect to % of GDP channelled towards R&D. Only last year did it slip to second place after South Korea, with 4.2% of GDP channelled to R&D.

Israel has a GDP of US$390.656 billion whilst ours is around US$16 billion (24 times smaller than Israel). What this means is that last year Israel channelled money towards R&D alone which is equivalent to our total GDP, yet Israel is 19 times smaller than Zimbabwe in size. What’s my point in all this? Israel is performing light years ahead of us because of one key thing – heavily investing in R&D.

Surely a nation like ours, endowed with huge amounts of arable land & more than 60 minerals according to Mineral Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ); plus rich human capital, can do better. What we need to do is apparent – we must seriously & heavily begin to invest in R&D initiatives. The example I used of Israel shows that Israel is performing way ahead of us, despite its serious land deficiency. The secret lies in its serious commitment to investing in R&D. Tech start-ups are the mainstay of Israel’s R&D initiatives with numerous R&D centres across the country; let’s emulate that!