Internationally, it is recognized that social and economic growth of any country is largely a result of the application of knowledge, science, and technology to obtain goods and services. Integration of Science, Technology and Innovation in national production processes is central to the success of Government’s policy priorities and programmes as outlined under Kenya Vision 2030. This is particularly important within the framework of demands in global economic competitiveness, sustainable development and equity concerns.
David Otwoma Ph. D
He has a PhD in Physics from University of Nairobi. He joined NACOSTI (National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation) in 2014. Before that, he was in the Ministry of Energy at the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board between 2011 and 2014. From 2007 to 2011, he was at National Council for Science and Technology as a Chief Science Secretary. Earlier he worked as a Nuclear Safeguard Inspector with International Atomic Energy Agency. He is a 1987 graduate of degree in Bachelor of Science in Physics from University of Nairobi.
What is NACOSTI and what do you do?
National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) was formed through an Act of Parliament known as Science, Technology and Innovation Act 2013 and it commenced its activities in June 2013 as National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation. Its primary role is to regulate matters of research, science and technology in Kenya. We also advise relevant government institutions on matters to do with science, technology and innovation and also create collaborations between different entities which are involved in science, technology and innovation. So what I do is regulatory, advisory and creating collaborations.
Considering your objectives, what achievements has NACOSTI had since its inception from the act?
NACOSTI is very young. Imagine in 2013 is when the Science, Technology and Innovation Act 2013 came into force and in June 2013, the Cabinet Secretary through a gazette notice commenced the activities of NACOSTI. Nevertheless, what it has achieved so far is that there is a board, the board has a chairlady she and her members total seven though two are yet to join the board. The two members will come from two institutions; the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KNIA) formed by the Science, Technology and Innovation Act 2013 and the National Research Fund (NRF), which have not commenced. Recently, the board carried out a recruitment exercise and the Director General got confirmed in December 2014. The next phase is to recruit more people to help NACOSTI carry out its mandate as per the Act.
When it comes to innovation and technology how does Kenya, compare to more developed countries?
Actually, the reason why NACOSTI was formed was so that we could compete with our peers. This is because we found that there were disjointed research efforts in the country. To unite these efforts was the reason we came up with NACOSTI so that we can compete with more developed countries. We want to create synergies between government, practitioners of research and people who take-up the findings of research. We are still at making baby steps.
How does NACOSTI engage the county and national governments in the effort to achieve its objectives?
Since county governments came into being, that is devolution, every year NACOSTI does a science, technology and innovation week and this year’s science, technology and innovation week conference will be in May 11-15, at the Chancellors court, University of Nairobi. Last year we held the 3rd science, technology and innovation week, and for the first time, Governors were invited. What the governors did, they sent their Chief Executive Officers who are in charge of matters to do with science, technology and innovation to come and represent them. This year we wish to have a round table whereby we can interrogate the question of how science, technology and innovation are in devolved government. We wish to invite again governors to the science, technology and innovation week so that we can interrogate that question.
How does NACOSTI seek to assure relevance and quality of science, technology, and innovation programmes in research institutes?
One of the mandates of NACOSTI is to regulate research. Through regulations and offering guidance, we ensure that only relevant research is conducted by researchers. NACOSTI has some funds which we normally disburse to people doing their PhD’s and Masters degrees or people who are research leaders and are heading a group carrying out research in Kenyan Universities. They request for grants and once they are granted, a masters or a PhD student submits the proposal to us. After that, NACOSTI forms a committee of people who are relevant in that particular area to grade the projects to ascertain that whatever is being done is definitely of relevance and adds quality in science, technology and innovation in the country.
What is the environment like in Kenya for innovation?
This is a tough one. People have different opinions when it comes to innovations. My opinion is people between 18-28 years are good at inventing new things. This is the age bracket which we should be assisting as most of them have not necessary been into any university. Normally innovation may be an improvement of what somebody does every day. We have a big youth population. The demographics can be compared to a pyramid with the youth making the base. People who are below 14years are between 40-50% of the population, if we can use the youth bulge to our advantage, we can come up with lots of innovation.
If the youths can be facilitated so that they can try out what they are doing whether it’s forming an incubation hub, for their ideas to be implemented then innovation and research would go far.
How is the private sector involved in the growth of innovation and research in Kenya?
This has always been a challenge, we have had situations where graduates come from universities and the industries say they are not ready. That is why we have people joining industries like banking being taken back for training. What needs to be done is, to link industry and academia. The government can be an apex of such partnership as it has knowledge of who is in the industry. If we can have that connection between industry and academia, then it is possible to have more growth and research in Kenya with the private sector inclusion. Like in Konza Techno polis, the idea is to have universities there doing research, industry able to see good innovations that it can invest in and make money.
How can we boost our capacity in science and innovation?
Usually two things, we need to boost human resource development, employ more young people to come up with great ideas and secondly provide financial resources.
What is the future of innovation in Kenya and what are some of the specific areas and products we should look out for?
Future of innovation depends on how we develop our youths, if we invest in our youths’ energy in a positive way; the future of innovation in Kenya is very bright. For example, Kenya is known to be an agricultural country; therefore, we need to add value to our agricultural produce so that we can be able to have our supermarkets shelves full.
How can engineers and engineering organization spur innovation and research in Kenya?
The linkage between the industry and academia should begin early such that people training as engineers from various universities have experience and are registered by the Engineers Board of Kenya immediately they graduate. The engineering organizations should be involved in setting up curriculums in universities and technical institutions so that engineering firms embrace the graduates or trainees coming out of the institutions. This will in turn spur innovation and research in the country. As the same engineers who go and work in factories, see how to improve processes or equipments.
In your observation, what are some of the barriers to innovation and research in the country?
The first barrier is on people, especially ladies. Ladies in Kenya and other countries are not encouraged to take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses. For this reason, we need to have an attitude change, so that we remove that barrier of restricting the number of ladies studying STEM courses at a very early age. Countries like China have become developed in a short time as people have been encouraged to take up science, engineering or mathematics courses. The other barrier is inadequate financial resources; if more institutions can have better resources then the country can be in a good position to produce quality engineers, scientists and graduates.
What advice would you give to innovators and researchers working hard to make their dreams come to reality?
Persistence is a good characteristic that people aspiring to succeed should embrace. People in developed countries do not believe in entrepreneurship as a full time job but have the mentality that a proper job or office jobs is the way to go. As for me, scientist comes up with solutions of how people can go to the moon, the physical structure of the rocket and he or she has to determine which fuel can be used in the rocket. Later on, the engineers make this a reality.