Nurturing innovation key to Kenya’s growth

Present circumstances overwhelm our consciousness and impact the choices we make every day. However, our choices today have lasting repercussions. In theory, we know this perfectly well. Yet, with shocking regularity, we make decisions based on the mood of the moment, which hurts our long-term interests. 

This deep-seated culture of here and now needs to pave way for an innovation culture. Materialistic interventions to solve today’s social-economic problems will never work because the problem isn’t really a material one to begin with. One has to start at the level of ideas.

In 1998 for instance, cell phones were scarce, and the world was warming up to the Internet. Today, internet has changed almost every aspect of our lives-from the way we communicate, to how we consume news, shop, navigate and entertain ourselves. Currently, as a result of innovation, millions of people from across the world are enjoying conveniences in digital payments; banking and insurance products, healthcare and education, among others.

Innovation is far from an exciting activity that one indulges in once in a while but a way of life. It’s a mindset of problem solving, researching, experimenting and most importantly implementing. To foster innovation, one must create room to fail, learn and re-attempt. Significant change in the country will only be achieved through overcoming the cultural barriers that inhibit innovation.

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Kenya is already making significant steps in nurturing innovation culture. As a growing economy, innovation is a major catalyst in accelerating Kenya’s development.

In today’s inter-connected world powered by technology, communication, big data and artificial intelligence, energy is a major component; it makes everything possible. Demand for energy in developing and emerging economies is reaching unprecedented levels owing to growing population, rapid urbanisation and industrialisation.

By 2040, the world will require up to 30 per cent additional energy than it needs today. It is important to note that as the demand increases, conventional solutions to energy supply become unsustainable due to climate change and other factors. Given the challenges, there is need for higher levels of technological and non-technological innovation in production and supply of energy.

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We are entering spaces which will demand smart cities, homes, buildings, energy efficient industries, transportation infrastructure and civilian mobility. New innovation systems are therefore required for seamless delivery of energy. At the same time, it is increasingly becoming necessary for businesses and companies to re-invent, rethink and re-imagine strategies.

Countries that succeed invest a lot in hard work and continuous research to solve problems, they re-invest their gains for tomorrow. It is a nation’s attitudes, hopes and sense of what life is about that produces an economy that either flourishes or flounders. The path to reforming an economy shouldn’t hence wind through material aid, it should go through cultural assistance in creating an innovation culture.

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In order to drive innovation, it is imperative that organisations adopt the concept of employee-centred innovation, a strategy that is increasingly gaining ground across the world. This strategy best works when the organisation has a thriving knowledge-based culture, which engages all employees around communities of practice, which then enables them to remain informed and engaged. In such set-ups, innovation forms a key aspect of employee engagement enabling organisations to remain competitive, improve operational efficiency, reduce costs and create value for customers and shareholders.

Light bulb solutions 

As East Africa’s leading energy producer, Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) is keen on developing innovative ideas in its quest to deliver electricity. The company has been able to mainstream innovation into the fabric of its business and gone beyond sporadic light bulb solutions to systematically integrate innovation in its conversations and actions.

These ideas include establishment of an energy park in Naivasha, commercial drilling services and outsourcing of local expertise to countries across the region, while progressing research in areas such as transformer manufacturing, solar manufacture and establishment of a calibration centre.

KenGen innovation engine revs up at three levels. The first involves its staff meeting one Friday every week to discuss innovative ways to deal with current and foreseen challenges. The second involves a bi-annual engagement and the highlight event is the Annual International Innovation Seminar.

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Given Kenya’s position as an innovation centre, we can bank on innovation to achieve economic growth for the country.

Mrs Miano is the Managing Director and CEO of KenGen

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