When you think of the most innovative places in the world, what do you picture? Silicon Valley and its array of tech startups? Tokyo, because it has the highest number of patents filed worldwide? London, where over 15% of the workforce is employed in the tech sector? Or are you imagining somewhere else?

You may or may not be thinking of South Africa, which has a long history of innovation, with famous inventions like the CAT scan and the first heart transplant pioneered there – and there are even more signs that South Africa could be the next hotbed for innovation. For example, have you heard of the Silicon Cape Initiative? It’s a Cape region community of tech entrepreneurs, developers, creatives, angel investors, and VCs who are passionate about entrepreneurship and the roles they play in the future of South Africa. And, did you know that according to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Cape Town has dedicated funding to support innovation capacity?

In fact, in the past decade, South Africa has introduced numerous commercially viable innovations into the market, including the Pelebox – a tree planting drone – and shorts made from plastic (among many, many other things).

According to research, Silicon Valley has been able to sustain innovation for so long for a few reasons, but here are three key things that it also shares with South Africa:

  1. Silicon Valley embraced cultural diversity by welcoming immigrant and transplant populations. In fact, Between 1995 and 2005, more than half of Silicon Valley’s startups were founded by immigrants. Comparatively, South Africa has often been called the Rainbow Nation.
  2. Silicon Valley benefited from several world class education institutions seeding the Valley with fresh ideas, energy, and research. Investing in educational institutions in that way helped support economic growth. According to World rankings, South Africa’s university system is the strongest on the continent.
  3. Silicon Valley also fostered a spirit of sharing and cooperation (as evidenced by things like the State of California prohibiting non-compete clauses). We are seeing these types of commitments to collaboration in South Africa, as well – like the Silicon Cape Initiative.

Recently, IdeaScale hosted a panel discussion with four female innovation leaders in South Africa: two from the City of Cape Town and two from the automotive company Motus. Each of the speakers embraced some of the core tenets of innovation – mainly that establishing innovation definitions and key performance indicators for innovation can help shape your program and ideation, but also recognizing that processes look different across departments and over time. Choosing to keep these best practices open-ended can help promote creativity and collaboration going forward. They also talked about how the goal posts are always moving with innovation, and that what is innovative today will just be table stakes tomorrow. They also all agreed that cultural diversity as well as necessity has been the mother of some of the most meaningful inventions.

To my mind, they sounded like they are ready to lead the way into our innovative future.

To learn more about innovation in South Africa, listen to this podcast panel interview with four female South African innovation leaders.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.



Featured image via Pixabay.