(Published - 28 July 2020)
UWC’s Future Innovation Lab addresses some of South Africa’s biggest challenges: the “wicked problems” of transformation, job creation and empowerment – as DVC Research and Innovation, Prof Jose Frantz, explained at the TOP Empowerment virtual conference.
“In the twenty-first century, we find ourselves beset with ‘wicked problems’: social or cultural challenges that are difficult or impossible to solve with the same old thinking, and that require innovative, holistic and collaborative approaches.,” Prof Frantz explained. “In South Africa, some of the wickedest of challenges are transformation, job creation and empowerment – and the University of the Western Cape’s Future Innovation Lab is taking aim at them.
This Future Innovation Lab is a result of a social innovation partnership with Samsung – a natural extension of the University’s belief that in transcending institutional, disciplinary, and sectoral boundaries we can co-create solutions that are far better tailored to address the most vital needs or challenges within our society.
The programme is targeted to learners that are previously disadvantaged South African citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 years, currently unemployed, who have a matric qualification and are motivated to build a career in software development and digital innovation. This programme is thus aimed at under-resourced and disadvantaged youth – exploring ways of creating alternative pathways into the economy and/or further learning opportunities.
Not only are students benefiting by improving their skills and experience, but UWC as an engaged university and the partners benefit in ways such as:
- Testing and refining new models of partnership between industry and academia
- Research & Innovation
- Career trajectories for PDI candidates into the digital economy
- Addressing the critical skills shortage
“The Future Innovation Lab allows us to think differently about the role of academia and business in building society,” Prof Frantz noted. “It allows new ways of partnerships focusing on sustainable job creation, creating opportunities by leveraging business ecosystems, government initiatives and the focus and energy of our youth. And it creates trusted partnerships and deep engagement around the underlying dynamics of our societal challenges.”
The Future Innovation Lab has allowed the participants to design apps that allows the University to contribute to addressing some wicked problems by:
- Addressing youth unemployment through an online platform (WebApp) directly connecting local employers with young job seekers who may have skills but are not qualified or do not hold certification for specific jobs.
- Addressing food security using area-based crop-advice, as well as marketplaces. The app will teach you how to farm and which fruits, vegetables, and herbs could potentially grow in your region.
- The Khathala team has developed a digital solution offering multiple tools and resources to help manage and support the risks associated with Postpartum Depression (PPD) (gender-neutral). Amongst other features, users are encouraged to practice mindfulness, gratitude, self-care, and reflection through a mood tracking feature, and so on.
But it’s just a start.
“The necessary building blocks for achieving success in an initiative such as the Future Innovation Lab is the ability of different but like-minded role-players to transcend their interests and concerns to address a particular societal challenge,” Prof Frantz noted. “The more mutual and trusted relationships become, the better the impact.”
She highlighted how partnerships could contribute to UWC’s Future innovation Lab programme becoming a regional driver of change.
“This is an opportunity to explore and refine this social innovation model as an example of how multi-sector partners can collaborate to address big societal problems – and embrace the power of collaboration across all sectors to build a better world.”
The Samsung EEIP App Factory at UWC, in conjunction with Microsoft currently has seven young interns working on refining their digital software development skills. The second cohort of the Future-Innovation Programme, consisting of 60 aspiring software developers, launches in August 2020. Students will be focusing on tackling wicked problems including Youth Unemployment, Environmental Sustainability, Gender Inequality, and more