Beyond the SADC Summit theme:  Can young tech talent unlock the region’s future?

Gibson Mhaka, Zimpapers Politics Hub

AS preparations for the 44th Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Summit to be hosted by Zimbabwe gain momentum, it’s crucial to highlight the diverse roles young innovators can play in driving economic growth and sustainable development across the Sadc region.

The Sadc Summit scheduled for August will be held under the theme “Promoting Innovation to Unlock Opportunities for Sustainable Economic Growth and Development Towards an Industrialised Sadc.”

This theme rightly calls for the recognition of the critical role young innovators can play in driving key sectors like manufacturing, mining and agriculture to industrialise the region for the realisation of high quality of life as envisaged in Agenda 2063 set by the African Union.

Promoting innovation within the Sadc region creates an environment where young people can thrive, contribute meaningfully and build a brighter future for themselves and the region.

Innovation and diffusion of new technologies are indispensable for economic growth.

They lead to increased productivity and the creation of wealth and economic well-being, including decent and green jobs.

While the Sadc region is not far behind in the use of technological innovation to foster growth, it is still trailing in its financial support for translating tech-enabled ideas by young innovators into impactful social and economic change.

This is despite the fact that youth in southern Africa can develop social innovations that can address the region’s socio-economic challenges.

For instance, three first-year students from the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) recently achieved global recognition for developing an innovative smart agriculture irrigation system.

The system, which aims to promote precision agriculture, leverages advanced sensor technologies to optimise the irrigation process. By doing so, it significantly reduces water costs while ensuring plants receive the optimal amount of water needed for their growth.

Tanaka Gudza, a computer science student, who was the team leader, Ebenezer Chisare, a data analyst and Tatenda Murwira, a technical co-ordinator participated in the global Innovation Seed Fund competition, which was held at the University of Oxford and they came first.

The university said through the innovation, farmers would significantly save water while improving crop yields and ensuring the reduced cost of irrigation as well as increasing climate resilience and environmental conservation.

This innovative smart irrigation system exemplifies the potential of youth-driven innovation in the Sadc region.

Imagine the potential impact if more young minds like these had the resources to bring their ideas to fruition.

The success story of these young innovators underscores the urgent need to bridge the financial support gap for young innovators across the Sadc region.

To address this critical need, the Southern African Youth Development Council (SAYDC) convened a meeting of diverse youth group delegates from the Sadc region in Harare from May 23-26. Held ahead of the 44th Sadc Summit of Heads of State and Government and the meeting focused on fostering collaboration and generating innovative projects and resolutions.

These resolutions and projects address a wide range of sectors and industries, including Smart Governance, Smart People, Smart Living, Smart Mobility, Smart Economy, Smart Environment, Agriculture, Finance, Health, Education, Infrastructure Development, ICT-Engineering and Green Energy.

One of the meeting’s organisers, Intercontinental Youth Connect spokesperson, Tamuka Hove explained that the meeting was aimed at providing a platform for youth delegates to develop and present projects and resolutions, aligning with the Sadc Summit’s theme and Zimbabwe’s exemplary policies like Education 5.0 and National Development Strategy (NDS1).

“The SAYDC meeting brought together youth delegates from across Southern Africa to tackle critical issues,” explained Mr. Hove. “Divided into three thematic councils, they focused on developing innovative projects and resolutions for peace, security and good governance (Council 1), industrial development and market integration (Council 2) and infrastructure development (Council 3).

“Ultimately, the goal was to draft resolutions for the 44th Sadc Summit. These resolutions would commend President Emmerson Mnangagwa on his chairmanship and leverage Zimbabwe’s hosting opportunity to showcase youth inclusion and innovation. The meeting aligned with the Sadc Summit’s theme and Zimbabwe’s leading policies like Education 5.0 and NSD1, providing a platform for young minds to contribute,” said Mr Hove.

He said a follow-up meeting will be held by SAYDC during the 44th Sadc Summit. This second meeting will provide a platform for youth delegates to present their finalised projects and resolutions directly to decision-makers attending the summit, potentially influencing policy changes that address the critical needs identified by the youth groups.

He said the SAYDC meeting plays a significant role in shaping the Sadc Summit agenda by ensuring youth perspectives are integrated into policy development and good governance discussions.

“The meeting’s resolutions directly address the Sadc Summit theme: ‘Promoting Innovation to Unlock Opportunities for Sustainable Economic Growth and Development towards an Industrialised Sadc,” Mr Hove explained.

“This focus on youth showcases their critical role in achieving these goals. The resolutions also build on specific council discussions, such as Council 2’s emphasis on youth entrepreneurship and industrial development programmes and Council 3’s exploration of high-impact infrastructure projects across the region.”

Mr Hove also highlighted opportunities for young people across Sadc to contribute to achieving Vision 2030.
“They can engage with SAYDC through its youth networks and chapters, participate in online discussions, collaborate on relevant projects, advocate for youth empowerment and stay informed about Sadc policies like the National Development Strategy (NDS1).

“Networking with young leaders and stakeholders, contributing to research and policy development and participating in monitoring and evaluation processes are all crucial for driving sustainable economic growth and development in the region,” he said.

Mr Hove’s explanation highlights the critical role youth play in shaping the region’s future. This underscores the need for a growing emphasis on empowering young people and creating opportunities for their meaningful participation in decision-making processes and development initiatives.

To empower young people and drive industrial development in Southern Africa, SAYDC recommends the establishment of Innovation Hub Programmes, drawing inspiration from successful models established within Zimbabwe’s state universities, such as the University of Zimbabwe and the National University of Science and Technology.

The institutions serve as incubators for innovative ideas and provide young entrepreneurs with access to shared workspaces, mentorship, funding opportunities and networking events. Additionally, initiatives like Kenya’s iHub and South Africa’s Silicon Cape are excellent examples of innovation ecosystems that foster youth entrepreneurship and technological innovation.

Co-ordinator of the Vision 2030 Movement, Mr Paul Tapiwa Mavima, said as the Sadc region strives for sustainable development and economic transformation, the active engagement and leadership of youth will be crucial in shaping a brighter future.

“Looking towards the upcoming 44th Sadc Summit, as young people, we are brimming with fresh perspectives and ideas. As youths Innovation provides a platform for us to tackle challenges related to sustainability, resource management and social development within the Sadc region. By actively participating in innovation, young people have a say in shaping the future of Sadc and ensuring its sustainability.

“Young people also aspire for Sadc to provide meaningful platforms for their voices to be heard and incorporated into regional decision-making,” said Mr Mavima.

A 2018 study on youth in Sadc highlighted that while member states have implemented programmes to promote youth innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership and participation, the scale of these interventions remains limited.

This leaves a significant gap, as the vast number of young people in need continues to outpace available resources.

To achieve this, Sadc-focused innovation initiatives are crucial. These initiatives should leverage the skills and capacities of the region by employing strategic frameworks and methodologies. However, understanding the current environment for product innovation is also essential for successful implementation.

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