“Dear innovators, we want to introduce you to your new home.” With these words, the DG of NIRDA, Kampeta Sayinzoga opened the official launch of NIRDA 2.0 at the Radisson Blu Hotel/Kigali Convention Centre on October 11th 2018. NIRDA was first established in 2013 to support the diversification of the Rwandan economy, replacing the Institute of Scientific and Technological Research. Following a 2017 review of its strategy and structure, NIRDA was realigned to the central themes of the Government of Rwanda’s development framework. This represents a shift toward a new, more agile, flexible and innovative way of working and achieving results across Rwanda’s industrial sector and the broader economy.
The new NIRDA structure also encourages and promotes a hands-on approach to technology support that engages private enterprises and industries across the country, while also promoting the development and research of key technologies that will drive future growth and competitiveness of the industrial sector.
The launch served to showcase NIRDA’s existing initiatives as well as shed light on future plans, attracting key players from various industries in Rwanda, government institutions, the international donor community, and academia as well as members of the private sector and young innovators. Guests arrived and were taken through a maze that showcased NIRDA’s three programs: Knowledge Management, Applied Research and Development, and NIRDA Open Calls.
Through its Knowledge Management Program, NIRDA develops detailed knowledge on priority sectors, sub-sectors and value chains, which are relevant to Rwanda’s economic performance nationally, regionally and globally. This knowledge is obtained through a mixture of internal research and monitoring of global technology trends, and by commissioning specific research. According to the DG of NIRDA, Kampeta Sayinzoga, Knowledge Management is the program that underpins all of NIRDA’s work: “Our factories require industrial knowledge and NIRDA 2.0 is very focused on the private sector. While NIRDA 1.0 focused on research for education, NIRDA 2.0 is focusing on research for product development and for the private sector. We have to change the way we access knowledge, the way we create knowledge, and the way we avail knowledge to the private sector.” NIRDA aims to develop knowledge that is used to inform policy and strategic industry-related decision-making.
An example of knowledge to inform policy-making is NIRDA’s Open Calls program. The Guest of Honor, former Minister of Trade and Industry, Hon. Vincent MUNYESHYAKA stated:
“Following the adoption of its new strategy, NIRDA is now equipped to change the industrial landscape in Rwanda by promoting the use of technology for industrial development, especially through technology monitoring; knowledge acquisition, development, and transfer; and applied research. This new approach will not only serve to improve the competitiveness of existing industries in order to increase their export potential, but also they will enable industrial innovators to identify new subsectors of value chains that will lead to export growth and import substitution.” The main objective of the NIRDA Open Calls Program is to introduce firm-level innovations, which improve the ability and capacity of Rwandan enterprises to compete in strategic national and international markets. This will lead to increased profits, exports and the creation of decent and productive employment. In partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), NIRDA’s first round of Open Calls targeted firms in the garment and banana wine value chains and twelve winners of the initial Open Calls were announced during the launch. According to André Habimana, the UNIDO Country Representative, the cooperation between his agency and NIRDA has contributed to achieving the challenge of converting NIRDA from a research institution into a service institution with a simplified research-business interface that will work alongside Rwandan enterprises to address the technological and technical barriers to growth and competitiveness.” Indeed, based on NIRDA’s experience with the garment and banana wine value chains thus far, Sayinzoga noted: “each winner has a fantastic story and has enormous potential. What they are missing is access to technology. Technology in equipment and in knowledge, and we’re here to give them that, in partnership with some of our partners, especially KOICA and UNIDO.” Mr. Lee Byung-Hwa, the Country Director of KOICA Rwanda praised the success of the first Open Calls initiative remarking that, as a co-funding partner, “KOICA sincerely wishes that NIRDA can serve as the driving force of technological advancement in a diverse range of sectors, including agriculture and ICT. This is how our partnership and our projects can be sustainable.”
Finally, the third program that was introduced to all in attendance was NIRDA’s Applied R&D Program, which is seeks to partner with young Rwandan innovators and bridge academia and the private sector. The program is aimed at introducing, promoting and embedding Industry 4.0 within the Rwandan industrial context. It involves need-based, collaborative research geared toward industries in the private sector. Similar to the Open Calls Program, NIRDA will not offer equity but facilitation/incubation for product ideation, scale and commercialization. Through technological incubation and drive to adaptation, NIRDA aims to create a generation of industrial innovators. According to MUNYESHYAKA, “Through its STEM and Life Sciences Labs, NIRDA will work with young Rwandan innovators in the private sector to exploit existing skills and emerging technologies in order to raise the quality of scientific research in the country. I am confident that this approach will strengthen the relationship between academia and the private sector through knowledge and technology transfer and the building of industrial technology capabilities across the board.”
One of the objectives of the NIRDA 2.0 launch was to call for partnerships with young innovators and private industrialists. Sayinzoga stated “the STEM and Life Sciences labs will create a maker’s space that will provide an eco-system for product development and commercialization and that will create pioneering, needs-based technology solutions for the next generation of Rwandan innovators. We are available and we are here because of you so please reach out to any NIRDA staff and myself and let’s see how we can partner together.” Sayinzoga also called on members of the financial sector challenging them to think about “a new way of helping our young innovators and our young industries, besides traditional products such as loans. It is time to think about venture capitalism, it is time to think about impact investment, it is time to think about all these products that exist in the world that were made for the private sector, but that do not exist yet in Rwanda. And we count on you to help us raise awareness, but more importantly make it happen. These innovators need a special type of capital, they deserve it, and we’re here to work with you to make it happen.”
Why are these partnerships of significance? Because, according to Sayinzoga, “this work, in the end, has to translate into highly paid jobs for our youth. NIRDA’s ultimate end goal with the Applied R&D program is to create and develop enterprises that will result in jobs for our youth that are the future of work. We want young Rwandan innovators to realize advanced technology such as AI is not a solution only for people in the west. It has to be something that relates to our particular context as well. It has to be something that is localized or domesticated. We are looking at increased domestic production, we’re looking at exports, but at the end of it, we’re looking at increased income for our youth. Dear innovators, we want to introduce you to your new home.”
Over the past twelve months, NIRDA has been working tirelessly with partners to establish NIRDA 2.0. New partnerships have been forged with development partners and partners within the private sector and the Open Calls have been launched. NIRDA 2.0 would not be possible without the strategic partnership and support of MINICOM, MIFOTRA KOICA, UNIDO, MITEC, RISA, BDF, RSB, and the University of Rwanda. Thanks to these partnerships NIRDA 2.0 is well on its way to modernizing current value chains and reinventing industries.