Davos 2017: Ebrahim Patel on SA’s story of innovation

Speaking at the WEF 2017 gathering, Minister of Economic Development shares positive aspects of the country.


The following clip was captured at WEF, in Davos Switzerland, where Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel was speaking.


MINISTER EBRAHIM PATEL: If this is a question of innovation  and our Davos story in a way im going to pull two people in the room illustrating some of our successes on innovation, Busi Mabuza is here. She’s the Chairperson of the IDC, and a few months ago we announced an IDC investment in a primus stove equivalent that you can use in an informal settlement. This difference involved that when a young kid bounced against that primus stove, instead of it falling over and setting the shack alight, there’s an automatic button that cuts it off. So that’s one example on the one end if you like of technology scale of bringing innovation.

The other example is Max Price. From your university Max, you know, Kit Vaughan, Professor Vaughan. So we’ve been working with him to develop a world class technology in the detection of breast cancer among women, and it’s really an attempt to combine x-rays and ultra sound. This thing I guess you’d imagine it developed in Sweden or in the United States, and our technology is now going through its second set of human trials. It’s probably the most advanced in the world and it comes through this level. There’s an enormous opportunity for us to commercialise this, and it’s a partnership between an entrepreneur based at the University of Cape Town at Groote Schuur Hospital and government. So we’ve made some of the seed funding available and I think it’s to thank the innovation concept and to show how South Africa is bringing acclaim in this area and bring more opportunities.

The question of our higher education challenges and crises this time of the year, and I think they’re enormous because we have to admit them, accept that there are some challenges that we need to have to work through. We don’t have all the answers, but some good progress in place. But I gave this talk in December at a forum looking at 20 years of the Constitution. And so I brushed up and in trying to look at what was the safe university education at the time of the adoption of the Constitution in 1996, and you’d be interested to know there were 385,000 students at university.

So the head count at universities was 385,000. Today there’s more than 900,000 young people enrolled at universities. So that is an enormous expansion in access. So we don’t deal with many of the challenges and they’re real, and they’re urgent but if you look at the long projection of what we’re doing, it is a very positive story there with the challenges and that was what President Zuma was saying really, that globalisation creates challenges but we don’t…

So in the same way as we expand university education, the other funding challenge is new problems. Poorer and poorer children are being brought into higher education and with them they bring newer problems, but better those problems, than the problems of exclusion. Much as it may not sound that big, many of them are …. but these are better problems to have than the problems that large numbers of young people just don’t have any access to higher education.

Funnily enough, I’ve just been summoned on the question by the … I didn’t catch the name but the reporter from the SABC on the jobs issue. Unquestionably, jobs remain the most urgent challenge that we face in the country. Millions and millions of people are without employment. But we should also while we say…. not more and we need to work a lot better.

We also need to look at what the facts are over the last couple of years because if you start with the facts, and between 2010, October 2010, which marked for us in some way, the beginning of the programme turnaround to today. The economy has created and met 2.1 million extra jobs. We are just short of 16 million South Africans working today, and I try to plot, I start to plot GDP growth and employment growth to see what is the relationship between that. Over this period the employment rate ratio of 1.4. In other words, for every 1% GDP growth, we’ve had on average of 1.4% growth in employment. That does not diminish the fact that we still have enormous challenges, so many people to be brought into employment, but it clearly indicates one part of our story, and we’ve had some quite interesting work on the employment challenge. We’re now looking to capture it in progress and we’ve launched some in the past particularly on youth employment. That’s going to be the most urgent challenge.

So complementing the issue of higher education, just access to skills for young people is the other part which is job opportunities and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people. So I think that is the story in the sense that you can communicate here in Davos. And at the same time, we go back home, there’s a lot more we need to do.


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