Dr. Mjwara, what is your core role as director general of the DST?
Philemon Mjwara: Collectively, we need to look at what we’re doing in the system to improve the quality of life for South Africans and to increase the competitiveness of South Africa’s private sector. My role is to provide strategic direction and to encourage that the National System of Innovation (NSI) is aligned to the vision of the department. I am also responsible for highlighting the importance of science, technology, and innovation and emphasizing the role science and technology could play in a broader sociopolitical context. And, of course, I also have to make sure that the stakeholders we work with are happy!
You once pinpointed three major challenges: the lack of critical mass in ICT, limited ICT skills, and inadequate access to telecommunications. How do you see these challenges today?
Well, critical mass is still a big problem for us. There is no doubt in my mind that we have excellent capacities in South Africa, but they tend to be isolated. We need to look at how we can achieve economies of scale and reach the critical mass that is required to accomplish our objectives, because some of these efforts require huge investments. Against this background, we recently introduced centers of competence whose main task is to identify challenges that require a technological solution. We then ask role players with suitable potential and expertise to come together and find a solution under the center of competence framework. At the same time, we are using these centers of competence to attract master’s and PhD students. In South Africa, we frequently face global competition for highly-qualified students.
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