In the last two months, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology has been staging a series of seminars aimed at helping the university community to better harness its potential for commercialization of innovations. The seminars which feature top rate speakers drawn from various industries are aligned to the new JKUAT’s vision to be an entrepreneurial institution.
On Monday October 29, 2018, it was the turn of the celebrated philanthropist and industrialist, Dr. Manu Chandaria to speak on the subject of innovation. Instead of tagging along a beautiful power point presentation as is the norm with many speakers, Dr. Chandaria took the mic, inched closer to the fully packed seminar room audience and went into the heart and soul of his talk.
Innovation, he told the attentive group of dons and students, refers to any activity or process that makes life better and cheaper. Rather than consider innovation as a capital intensive and technologically anchored process; Dr. Chandaria noted that it should best be understood as a way of life. An incremental daily activity that results in social impact.
“What role can you play in doing something that will satisfy your inquisitiveness and at the same time improve the world we are living in?” he posed to the audience.
Demystifying the myth that some races were more innovative, the chairman and CEO of Comcraft Industries said it all depended on the desire and drive on the part of any human being to make things better.
“All of us have two hands and two eyes. The difference is in our minds. How we think and appreciate our environment makes all the difference,” he challenged.
He gave the example of Mpesa, a Kenyan innovation that has revolutionized the financial sector, with immense social impact.
However, for innovation to reflect at national level, Dr. Chandaria called for a confluence of government, private sector, academia and community.
He traced the Indian story; anchoring it on the revolutionary Mahatma Gandhi philosophy, which placed much emphasis on local products in place of the foreign. While this came at great cost to the Indians, it awakened the internal drive that has now hoisted the country to be world’s sixth largest economy.
Similarly, he said that Kenya could only move away from the 80% import based economy by embracing local manufacturing.
Dr. Chandaria however added that for Kenya to make the leap, universities had to change their way of teaching and research. He cautioned against producing graduates who do not understand how the actual world works. Placement of students in thematic industries during their training was an invaluable experience that each university should give to the learners.
Although he lauded JKUAT for a number of creative ideas, he lamented that the University had not been effective in transferring the same innovations to end users.
Vice Chancellor Prof. Victoria Ngumi informed Dr. Chandaria that JKUAT had resolved to work with various industry players and communities in the country in order to foster its innovative and social impact capacity.
Prof. Ngumi thanked the speaker for honouring the University with his decades’ insights on entrepreneurship and industrialization. She also thanked Dr. Chandaria for donating books to JKUAT to support teaching and research.
The seminar was organized under the auspices of AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project; a JICA led initiative that supports implementation of the JKUAT based Pan African University Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI).