France to toughen universities’ capability entrepreneurship in innovation

She is just a few clicks away from being a few shillings richer, compliments to seamless innovations.

Innovation has made life easier in many different ways because not only have certain chores been simplified; it has also made doting easier when we bring your grandmother into the equation.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but there is one little problem and that is almost all of these celebrated innovations are not homegrown despite an abundance of talents.

Marrying innovation with entrepreneurship skills in higher learning institutions at home could offer untold prospects for many stakeholders but most importantly to a keyed up, unemployed youthful population fresh from college.

As it is, graduate employability is a global challenge and Tanzania has not been spared with 2014 findings by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) indicating that 61 per cent of graduates in the country were ill prepared for the job market – not that the jobs are readily available.

The numbers offer a glimpse into the stark reality of the situation on the ground and in efforts to help reverse the state of affairs, the Embassy of France in Tanzania has thoughtfully embarked on a two-year program to support innovation and entrepreneurship for university students, among other things.

Through the Innoversity Project, as the program has been christened, the French government comes with a purse of over 1.4bn/- (570,000 Euros) to be spent in the two-year period and will collaborate with a Tanzanian firm, Sahara Ventures, as an implementing partner and three universities will benefit from the project.

The beneficiary academic institutions are University of Iringa, Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology and Sokoine University of Agriculture.

The French ambassador to Tanzania, Nabil Hajlaoui, said that the project has three main objectives among which are to enhance the capacities of the universities that are partners in the program.

“The aim is to support students, lecturers, researchers, and management to integrate innovation and entrepreneurship to address the skills gaps and create employment opportunities for youth. We believe there is great potential because the country has a young population which is very promising,” he said.

The ambassador said that the other objectives of the program are to promote entrepreneurship spirit in general and also to raise awareness among the students and provide them with the right skills to become good entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

“Yes it is important to empower youth and create jobs. But the idea is also to show how we can unlock creativity among young people in Tanzania, instead of importing solutions we want it to be proven that home produced solutions can work to solve local problems,” he said.

According to the ambassador, the only way of moving forward is by value addition through entrepreneurship in innovation, adding that the Innoversity Project will focus on specific sectors while working with the three beneficiary universities.

“We are committed to supporting higher learning institutions beyond academics and research but also by merging innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Among the sectors we are going to focus on include the agro-tech sector which is a key sector especially with the current Ukrainian crisis as we all know and many, many other sectors,” he said.

The project could not have come at a more opportune time as the government has been trumpeting the need to embrace the digital economy as a means to create jobs for young people in the country.

According to the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) Director of Knowledge Management, Samson Mwela, the government has a five-year plan to create jobs and one key area to achieve that end is through innovation and entrepreneurship.

“The Innoversity Project complements existing government efforts thus it is very welcome because we understand the importance of the programs, it will encourage innovation, entrepreneurship, technology transfer and research commercialization to create new solutions and employment opportunities,” he said.

Chief Executive Officer of Sahara Ventures, Jumanne Mtambalike, said the criteria for selecting innovators who will benefit from the program will be set soon, adding that the project will go a long way in addressing graduates’ employability in the country.

“For a long there have been pleas for the role of universities to be revisited. What is needed are 3G universities which will be at the core of solving community problems and nurturing talents and ensuring that there is a lifeline of talent in the country,” he said during a workshop to introduce the project.

Technological advancement, he added, provides endless opportunities for young graduates and other innovators to become entrepreneurs in their own right, noting that the project is a platform where technology transfers and research commercialization will be made possible.

Sahara Ventures is the implementing partner of the project which has the core mission to build a stable innovation, technology and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Africa through consultancy and investment.

Mtambalike said that universities have be at the core of the innovation ecosystem within their own environment and as such they need flexibility in their curricula and start doing unconventional things and encourage alternative approaches to learning such as inviting professionals to share experience with students.

University of Iringa Director of Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Deo Sabokwigina, also admits that higher learning institutions have to accept the fact times have changed and they need to enlist the services of coaches and mentors when it comes to innovations.

University of Iringa is among the three beneficiaries of the Innovation Project and Sabokwigina commended the French embassy for coming up with the project, noting that it will give exposure to the university’s students and innovators they work with and add value to their existing programs.

Most importantly, he opined, the program will enhance the university’s capacity and take them to the next level which is to scale up innovations and help innovators link with prospective innovators.

“We have been working with innovator through existing programs such as Kiota Hub and we have also been working on finding digital solutions in the agriculture value chain and this project and financing will definitely take us to the next level,” he said.

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