Friday 10 February 2023

Innovation is about change. Our ability to adapt and re-imagine enables us to both survive and thrive. Universities are places where students can explore, take intellectual risks, and become the researchers and innovators of tomorrow. Today it has become imperative that these institutions produce job creators, as well as job seekers.

The British Council has initiated the Innovation for African Universities (IAU) programme to support a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within Higher Education Institutions across sub-Saharan Africa.

The IAU is a partnership project, bringing together Higher Education Institutions in the UK and Africa to engage, interact and learn from one another. This involves 24 Africa/UK collaborations in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa as well as local entrepreneurial ecosystem organisations.

Collaboration grants were awarded to nine South African Universities in 2021. Working with their respective UK university partners and ecosystem players, they have developed a range of entrepreneurship and innovation-related projects. The underlying objective has been to develop skills necessary for young Africans to start businesses, generate jobs, build wealth, and take advantage of growth opportunities.

The IAU Showcase Event provided a platform for the nine South Africa IAU projects to showcase their ideas and achievements, as well as to share the key lessons learned from the development and implementation of their diverse projects, as follows:

  1. Inclusive innovation: Supporting disabled design and entrepreneurship, Central University of Technology (CUT)

Partners: Aston University, Loughborough University, Disabled People South Africa and the Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled.

The CUT project focuses on disabled people and the unique skills they need to start or develop business enterprises. It also intends to upskill and offer business and technical opportunities to the wider disabled community in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria.

2. A Social Enterprise Incubator for South Africa, Stellenbosch University (SU)

Partners: The Launch Lab, Coventry University and Coventry University Social Enterprise CIC

An exchange of expertise has led to the establishment a social enterprise incubator at Stellenbosch University. This incubator supports the development of innovative business solutions that promote climate adaptation and environmental clean-up.

3. Supporting youth social entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa, University of the Free State (UFS)

Partners: Glasgow Caledonian University and Challenges Ghana 

Student volunteers from UFS were trained in social entrepreneurship theory and related soft skills and then networked with NGOs to develop social entrepreneurial initiatives. An exploration of the emerging barriers and opportunities has informed the development of a roadmap that can better support youth social entrepreneurship and the growth of social enterprise.

4. Embedding enterprise education to address unemployment in the construction sector, Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) 

Partners: London South Bank University and the KwaZulu-Natal Master Builders and Allied Industries Association

The MUT project has incorporated digital skills and entrepreneurial learning activities in Built Environment curriculum programmes. It aims to address both the needs of students facing economic and social challenges and the university staff required to integrate entrepreneurship education, as well as the context of a declining industry needing to adapt and modernise.

5. Agri-entrepreneurship curriculum development for social innovation, youth unemployment and climate change impact, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)

Partners: Swansea University, University of Cape Coast, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Liv Agriculture

The UKZN project aims to up-skill the youth, narrow the unemployment gap and improve food security systems. Agriculture is being used as a social innovation tool to produce a new generation of sustainable farmers that can tackle climate change issues. 

6. Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic and Accelerator Programme (WECAP), University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)

Partners: The University of Edinburgh, Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, and the African Circular Economy Network 

WECAP trains students to become entrepreneurial consultants, providing them with a skill set that they can add to their CVs and use to seek employment. The clinic supports the acceleration of businesses started by student entrepreneurs. 

7. Innovations for the digital economy, University of Johannesburg (UJ)

Partners: University of Warwick, Gauteng City Region Academy and Tshepo (Tehepo1million)

The UJ project explores changes in the supply of digital skills and job opportunities in the post-Covid labour market. It seeks to understand how young workers can be rapidly retrained to meet the demand for digitally literate and flexible remote workers.

8. Business Innovation and Incubation Centre (BIIC), Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT)

Partners: Manchester Metropolitan University and Snake Nation

The CPUT project has introduced a pilot programme to empower youth to enter the digital and creative economy as technopreneurs. It has also developed BIIC which provides a commercial opportunity for selected students' entrepreneurial ideas. 

 9. Carbon Literacy for Youth Employability and Job Creation (CL4YEJC), Durban University of Technology (DUT) 

Partners: Sheffield Hallam University, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Kisii University and Innovate Durban

The CL4YEJC project has adapted and translated a Carbon Literacy Toolkit that uses carbon literacy as a tool for youth to initiate green innovation and entrepreneurship ventures. The project is also working towards strengthening the capacity of Higher Education Institutions in sub-Saharan Africa to engage with carbon literacy.

The IAU Showcase Event was also an opportunity for and like-minded stakeholders involved in enterprise development and youth employability to find out about the IAU programme and its initial outcomes.

Each initiative has brought unique gains but collectively the IAU makes important strides towards its entrepreneurial and innovation goals, as expressed below by two beneficiaries:

“Being part of British Council IAU was a dream come true. We were provided with the funds and knowledge to create inclusive industry-linked technopreneurship development infrastructure for graduates and students. Now we have eight student projects being supported by the industry to improve their product innovation. Currently this infrastructure is also being used to reach out to more students and graduates to help them create their own techno-enterprises.”   

Professor Michael Twum-Darko

(Acting) HOD: Graduate Centre for Management and Head of Centre for Business Innovation and Incubation, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

 “The work that the British Council is currently doing is ground-breaking in sub-Saharan Africa. This is the largest entrepreneurial ecosystemic initiative ever to be launched in this region. As academia, ‘hats off’ to the British Council for basing their initiative on proper research. We’ve only just begun and there’s lots more work to do, but we’ve begun to bring people together and get the ecosystems going. I do believe that the British Council is on the right track: inspiring entrepreneurial minds, entrepreneurial hearts, and hands. If they can keep this entrepreneurial momentum going, I can see big transformation happening within the sub-Saharan African region, specifically in the growth and developmental maturity of entrepreneurial systems.”

Dr Thea van der Westhuizen

Academic Leader at the Management and Entrepreneurship Discipline, University of KwaZulu-Natal, National Chair for EDHE: Community of Practice for Entrepreneurship in Learning and Teaching

Date: Thursday, 26 January 2023

Time: 11:30 to 18:00 (SAST)

Venue: CSIR International Convention Centre, Pretoria, South Africa and Online


Notes to Editor

For further enquires, contact Olipa Ntawanga at the British Council:

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We build connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education and the English language. Last year we reached over 80 million people directly and 791 million people overall, including online, broadcasts and publications. Founded in 1934, we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter.