Innovation centres can certainly act as drivers of growth in developing countries. But those countries need to find an appropriate model.
Science parks, major drivers for education and research, originated back in the 1970s but were for a long time only to be found in developed countries. However, they could potentially have a very positive impact on the economies of emerging countries and contribute significantly to their development. The latest Convergence Letter from global management and technology consultants Bearing Point, entitled ‘Of Science Parks and Men’, draws examples from several African countries and shows how science parks can help emerging countries by gradually transforming into smart cities. The report also lists the steps that such innovation centres in Africa should be taking. A key example of what can be done is Smart Village, an Egyptian science park opened in 2003 which now boasts a total workforce of 35,000 employees. The Convergence Letter underlines that this initiative provided a 14.6% boost to the country’s ICT sector in 2009 and has helped to sustain Egyptian economic growth at 4.7% a year.
Technical and financial constraints
The report underlines that emerging countries have a variety of options at their disposal to help develop technological leverage. Making use of smart technology to ensure optimal management of energy, water and electricity distribution networks should enable African countries to put their infrastructure on a solid footing and help them to emerge from the shadow of the developed world. However, the technical barriers to development are minor compared with financing and cultural hurdles. Financing obstacles arise because the building of science parks demands the participation of a variety of players both private and public. In Tunisia, for example, the model for the construction of the El Ghazala Technopark is based on the involvement of a private company working with State backing to develop and manage the park. By working together, these various organisations can help to set up incubators and similar company-nurturing structures and also to establish business centres.
Science parks need both internal and external focus
A second major aspect when planning to build a science park is the role it is destined to play on the national and international scene. The report stresses that this kind of project should be part of an overall country Innovation Plan. One example is Mauritania, which is planning to set up a science park in the capital Nouakchott. Estimates show that this may generate growth, as part of the comprehensive National Modernisation Strategy for the Administration and Information and Communication Technologies, of 6% per annum over five years. Last but not least, the Bearing Point consultants believe that it is essential to take an international perspective, with a view to attracting partners from all over the world and encouraging multinational companies to set up offshoots at these technological innovation sites.