Promoting Innovativeness in the Digital Space
Being an INAUGURAL SPEECH OF THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS AND DIGITAL ECONOMY, DR ISA ALI IBRAHIM PANTAMI DURING THE MIT-REAP ADVISORY BOARD MEETING
Thursday 5th March, 2020
We are very pleased to have such esteemed persons here today and we appreciate your acceptance to be members of the Advisory Board of the Abuja Team for Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (REAP), promoted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is indeed a special honour for me to inaugurate this Board.
I must emphasize, at this point, that while the focus of this is officially Abuja, the aims of this project transcend the FCT; and this is being done for Nigeria as a whole. The learnings and principles applied through REAP, are transferable to any town, city, state or region of this dear nation of ours. And so it should be.
Permit me to take a step back in time to offer some background.
I would like to say that this undertaking was inspired by the President’s fight against Poverty and his focus on Economic Development.
In 2018, after a period of evaluating options on programmes that could help deepen the emerging innovativeness that we had observed among our youth; and catalyse economic growth and impact therein, a team of us decided that the REAP programme offered by MIT offered the best proven example of such. In January 2019, we decided to make the application to MIT as Team Abuja.
Lagos had previously undergone REAP and, arguably, there have been benefits to its ecosystem; but little direct carry-over to the rest of the country. Therefore, there is an implicit aim, this time to make the effort more inclusive, even if doing the programme for Nigeria as a whole would have been too cumbersome.
A few months later, in May, MIT accepted Abuja’s application to embark on the programme after a competitive assessment of bidding regions from all over the world.
Abuja is joined in REAP’s 7th Cohort by teams from regions in Denmark, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan (ROC). The Lagos team had colleagues from Canada, Iceland, Peru, Spain and the UAE; attesting to the importance that the world places on creating innovation driven ecosystems, and our aspiration to operate at global best standards.
The President, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, gave his blessings and active support right from the beginning; and we remain grateful for his good guidance as we strove to achieve this. I also am to convey to you his personal best wishes to you all today.
The main purpose of the programme is to adopt, and adapt, MIT’s proven frameworks on accelerating innovation to create localized strategies for developing and sustaining enterprises driven by innovation (IDEs). The march towards a Digital Economy, which I currently oversee will depend on harnessing scaled innovation towards fulfilling the 8 pillars, which our national strategy is built upon.
Although the programme emphasizes regional teams, the benefits from this undertaking invariably spread beyond local boundaries; which can only be good for Nigeria. Lagos, for example, has inspired Abuja and other cities around the country to develop fledgling innovation hubs focused around various industries, like ICT, Retail, Fintech, Construction and Agribusiness. To this end, Abuja has emerged and is indeed recognized as a Tier 2 African Innovation Hub.
And when we look at it critically, there are virtually no limits to what sectors of the economy and society that innovation cannot touch. This is not just about the use of ICT for its sake alone, but as a potential enabler for amazing things to happen everywhere, alongside other forms of technological research and development.
I have humbly taken up the role as Champion of the Abuja Team and have with me a talented group of people with varied but valuable backgrounds that have kept working hard towards implementing REAP for Abuja.
Which brings me to why we are here today.
REAP is not, and cannot be a short-term gimmick, but actions emanating from it can begin to take root now. It is strategic and will be incorporated into our Digital Transformation plans.
Permit me to paint this picture for you: Like most of Africa, 60% of our population is under the age of 30. 28% is under-10. Put mildly, there are not enough “regular” jobs (in government or companies) for this population if things remain the same. Though we do have a good base of SME entrepreneurship, we need to play in the new economies for they are the drivers of future job growth. It means we need to tackle bottlenecks, be they policy-based or any underlying issues and attitudes among youth, as they may be identified. It also means seeking lots of data.
While a regular SME may employ 5 to 10 persons, a scaled-up IDE can make that number 50 or more; and they would also be quality skilled jobs, in comparison. We need to pivot towards encouraging many more of these founded by our youth.
REAP advocates a structured, stakeholder driven approach to tackling innovation. The reality we find is that innovation has operated largely in silos; each stakeholder largely doing their own thing. However, by coming together we can achieve the synergies that accelerate it.
Furthermore, we are provided with an objective set of criteria that enable us to assess our capacities for Innovation and Entrepreneurship against global benchmarks. This is critical for our capacity building efforts to ensure that we, all stakeholders, identify where best to channel our resources for best impact.
With the induction of Abuja into REAP, we seek to develop harmonized strategies and remove identified bottlenecks; in order to catalyze innovation and the business of innovativeness.
During the first workshop, for example, the team was introduced to a programme in the Boston area called MASSChallenge. A clear example of the REAP principles of stakeholder collaboration, this programme over a 5-year period has attracted, incubated and commercialised over 2,400 new innovative startup companies that attracted over $6bn in funding, generated over $3bn in revenues with sustained growth; and employed over 157,000 people; all located in the Greater Boston area. And the project has replicated in other US cities, like Austin and other countries as well.
These are the sorts of numbers we would love to see emerge in various pockets around the country, to realize that we are tackling the endless socio-economic complaints that bombard us daily; that translate into gross dependency – and it is SDG compliant too.
You all, are visionaries in your own right. Apart from your accomplishments, you represent varied professional backgrounds and geographies. Thus, your perspectives on issues can offer critical assessments, new ideas and support for any necessary changes that we need to make in our systems for the long-term good. We are depending on your vision and experience, therefore, to help us focus better and drive wider support and advocacy for the principles we have.
For REAP to succeed, no entity can act alone. MIT requires a collaboration between 5 stakeholder groups, and we here represent all those. Additionally, beyond the team itself, the implementation of REAP has required creating wider partnerships with other players within those stakeholder groups. Hence the success of REAP will be derived from the synergies and partnerships that we build out.
The partnership emanated from building a team; and to that extent I am grateful for the presence here of my brothers, the Honourable Minister for the FCT, our Chief Host and keen supporter, my Co-Champion, The Executive Secretary PEF(M)B and the DG NITDA, whose organisations shall spearhead the government stakeholder engagement. I also look forward to bringing the REAP Framework as a basis for collaboration with arms of the Federal and State Governments; among others.
Collaboration with these entities, and the private sector, will be vital.
The private sector is very integral to REAP. Here with us in Team Abuja are members from varied business backgrounds, including entrepreneurs and financial service professionals; whose valuable experience and networks shall ensure better cross collaboration between Government, Business and Education.
At this point, I cannot under-emphasise the importance of our Education sector as a key stakeholder. With us today is the Vice Chancellor of Nile University, which is our Education partner for REAP and who has actively supported workshops with other institutions in this cause. And to our esteemed members from other institutions, you are especially welcome. Education is important as the fundamentals of innovation; Human Capacity and Research, largely come through our institutions.
We envisage that by implementing a sustainable approach to developing a strong pipeline of innovation, Abuja, and Nigeria, can become a formidable rival to other emergent innovation centres worldwide; in the process adding more dimensions to the economic diversification plans of government.
Very importantly, if we do this right, local entrepreneurship will rise to a quality that attracts high levels of venture capital investment and solidifies our direct investment profile. Abuja is an attractive destination for FDI into Nigeria, and with this it can only improve further.
As the REAP project continues over the next 2 years; and beyond, we will turn to the Advisory Board, yourselves, to tap from your wealth of knowledge, experiences, contacts and any other resource at your disposal, to help us to succeed. This also calls for your time, contacts, policy advocacy and guidance in making REAP sustainable.
We shall aim to have Advisory Board meetings after every REAP Workshop, to ensure that the Action Phases in-between them are well mapped out and meaningful. The next Workshop shall be in June, so we will expect a meeting in July or August at the latest.
It might also be noteworthy that Abuja has bid to host the 3rd workshop in this series to take place in January 2021. There is a lot of prestige in this and it has never been held in Africa. If we are successful in this bid (and we intend to be) all members of the Cohort and faculty from MIT will be here to see our ecosystem. It would bring needed global visibility to us. An assessment team from MIT shall be visiting in the next month or two to evaluate our readiness for that. My Dear Members, we would like you to be a part of that success.
Today you will be familiarized with REAP and do feel free to make these meetings as interactive as you wish and we accept objective critiques that help us get better.
Thank you very much once again for accepting this role, for coming from near and far; and I pray that you find its prospects as exciting as we have.
With this I hereby declare the Abuja MIT-REAP Advisory Board duly inaugurated and I wish us all every success.