Having a vision, dreaming big and thinking inclusively with that vision, a focus on technology innovation and business partnering meaningfully with government, Higher Education and civil society were the central themes of Accelerate Cape Town’s AGM held on 20 Aug 2013 and sponsored by Nedbank, Old Mutual and Distell.
In his address, Accelerate Cape Town’s CEO, Chris Whelan, outlined a future vision of Cape Town as a sustainable, food and energy-secure city that styles itself as Africa’s innovation city. A collaborative, synergistic approach by both business and government, with a focus on technology and innovation, is key to achieving this vision, Whelan asserted. “We’re calling for robust engagement around the role of business, the importance of possibility-thinking and the necessity of innovation and creativity in helping to address the collective national challenge of eradicating poverty across the country,” said Whelan.
To achieve this vision of inclusive, expansive, successful Cape Town, Whelan introduced a number of pipeline projects that could jumpstart Cape Town’s economy and address the youth unemployment crisis engulfing the country. One of these is the possibility of connecting Saldanha – Africa’s deepest natural harbour – with Cape Town via rail, road and high-speed broadband, thereby creating a dynamic business network hinged around the gas energy supplies off Africa’s West Coast. He touched on numbers and figures of an ocean-based economy that brings a considerable injection into the national coffers: some R200m every time a single rig arrives at a South African port to be refurbished.
In his address, guest speaker Derek Hanekom, National Minister for Science and Technology, endorsed Whelan’s innovation focus and spoke about a joined-up, collaborative approach between government and business. “The common thread between such collaboration must be the shared goal of making the country a better place for all its citizens as outlined in the National Development Plan,” he said. “To enable an environment that meets the needs of business to innovate, it is necessary to dream big and develop appropriate technology for addressing the country’s challenges,” Hanekom said, as he outlined a number of projects and schemes that his department is addressing as part of a future plan to invest some 1.5% of GDP in Research & Development (R&D) by 2022. Currently, that national investment figure sits below 1%. Hanekom made the point that good research must always underpin innovation and he encouraged business to focus on R&D to assist in achieving the projected growth. The critical importance of science, technology and development for addressing the country’s future needs is an area that Hanekom’s department takes an active interest in. He outlined a number of dynamic research projects funded by his department, as a means to open the door to the future needs of an economy that is more knowledge than mineral-based. One such funded project looks at the exploiting of the country’s rich titanium reserves by the process of ‘additive manufacturing’. Additive manufacturing – 3D printing – holds tremendous potential in a range of areas, including aerospace, housing and biomedical engineering.
Mirroring Whelan’s comments on the need for future energy security, Hanekom announced the government’s intentions to proceed with exploring the mining of shale gas in the Karoo region. Whilst being cognisant of engaging with all stakeholders, Hanekom made the point that shale gas could be a “game changer”, and we therefore need to explore all avenues in our efforts to achieve energy security, he said. Accelerate Cape Town is a think-tank, catalyst and business consortium that advocates for businesses throughout the Western Cape and brings together key stakeholders throughout the Cape Town region to develop and implement a long-term vision for sustainable, inclusive economic growth. It operates under four key mandates, namely: Connectedness, both physical and virtual, Enterprise development, aimed at growing the number of economically active South Africans; Talent, particularly attracting and retaining black talent in the city and Telling the African Story, especially as it relates to attracting business to the continent.