Monday, April 7, 2014

INNOVATION IS NOT ONLY FOR SCIENTISTS

In certain circles there is a raging debate about government’s insistence on promoting sciences of over arts. 

Understandably many of the opponents of this government are people who feel they have no aptitude for science and therefore feel shortchanged by the initiative. Government and the proponents of the move say science and technology are the major drivers of innovation, which is what will drive development in this country into the future.

In the history of development the promotion of science and technology has often made the difference between those who lagged behind and those who shot ahead. While crucial to innovation, innovation can be exercised by anyone and not only scientists.

This week Ugandan Eunice Namirembe, a founding member of the health services provider Medicine Concierge,  won the Google Africa Connected award for her company’s innovative way of getting health serbices to people in need using ICT.

Medicine Concierge, uses ICT to provide health tips, first aid advice and coordinate medical services for people in emergencies out of a single van that doubles as a call center and ambulance.

Namirembe working with a group of health practitioners thought up and executed the concept which is unique in its ability to overcome our weaknesses in health service delivery using communication.
The initiative works around Kampala but with help from Google maybe rolled out to cover the country, the continent eventually.

Namirembe’s last days before a science teacher may have been in her O-Level but she has used her interest in computers to find a solution for the issues of the day.

The point is that we cannot get away from science and technology as a driver of innovation but we need not be scientists to harness this power.

Never in the history of the world has the saying “the world is oyster” had more meaning than today.
The example of Namirembe and her colleagues highlights for me one of the major challenges of service delivery in this country. 

Often times our services are copy-paste templates from more developed economies and do not take our own local peculiarities into account. Take the case of medical care not everybody needs to go to the hospital for medical care, a timely first aid intervention can mean the difference between getting up after an incident and a lengthy stay in one of health centers with their creaky facilities and dubious service.

A large part of the challenge with our health system is that it is overwhelmed by all sorts of minor problems, taking away resources from serious issues.

In the financial sector believe it or not there was a time when banks were only situated near or on Kampala road, they opened at 10 am and closed for business at one pm and never on weekends and for a long time there was only one ATM machine on Kampala road, which was only used by VISA credit card holders.

Now with mobile money, a concept developed just across the border in Kenya, to serve the unique need of our societies especially that we still have no fixed addresses – as determined by western models, but we still need to move money around, banking services are changing to back room operators rather than the face of the industry.

Examples abound in whichever industry you care to think about.

The key for us is having our own people – scientists or not, looking to solve our problems using available technologies to bridge our deficiencies.

Whereas we need not look to government for support in all our endevours, there has to be mechanism put in place to recognise and encourage innovators like Namirembe and her partners. The support need not be in form of cash – government cash has a nasty habit of killing initiative, but maybe as little as giving them an ear and helping them connect with other innovators around the country or around the globe.

Isnt it a scandal that it has taken Google from across the Atlantic to come and showcase this initiative?

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