Innovation and the private sector in inclusive African development

Innovation and private sector development are central to economic development. Yet, despite much evidence and policy rhetoric to the contrary, innovation is still often promoted through linear knowledge transfer. Industrial policies require a better evidence base. Innogen research identifies the complexity of the innovation-investment-economic development nexus within Africa in ways that allow policymakers to promote innovation more effectively, and to appreciate and address the scope for inclusive industrialisation. The research has also had direct impact on commercial decision-making. The research has shown:

A. The key role local business development plays in promoting inclusive growth in:

Health: A project by Innogen co-director Maureen Mackintosh with Tanzanian and Indian colleagues investigated access to medicines in Tanzania and unexpectedly identified the importance of local manufacturers in facilitating access to medicines in rural areas, and also the role of a local NGO trader in facilitating local medicines purchase. This led to further funding to research the scope for improving health sector performance through improved local manufacturing and supply in Tanzania and Kenya.

Mackintosh’s work has had international reach and significant impact in challenging a widely held view that local pharmaceutical production in Africa is necessarily costly and inefficient. It contributed evidence supporting a broad policy shift at African government and international levels towards better integration of health and industrial policy.

Food security: Innogen member Norman Clark was an active participant in an innovative programme on Research into Use that showed the potential of promoting promising (often biotechnology-based) innovations by small agro-businesses in Kenya’s agricultural sector in creating jobs, new skills training and improved agricultural productivity (Clark, N. et al. 2013). The programme has shown how technology development and pro-poor aid funding could be much improved by more direct practical involvement on the part of British science and associated aid bodies like the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Clark’s work has had an impact on DFID’s policy decisions and funding strategies and, in particular, has played a significant role in the development of the Research into Use strategy for awarding funding to technology development consortia across Africa through his role as Economic Adviser to the Director of this programme.

B. The scope for promoting an effective enabling environment for innovation in the private sector with respect to:

Policy: New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) funded research by Innogen associate Joanna Chataway and colleagues highlighted the potential gains from improved communication between often discrete policy action areas, such as education, finance and health, to better support policy goals, such as reduction of disease burden (Chataway, J. et al. 2009). The research advocated for innovation systems thinking to be mainstreamed in government health policy. Evaluation by Rebecca Hanlin and Joanna Chataway, in collaboration with RAND Europe colleagues, of a large Wellcome Trust investment in research capacity building draws on and further develops this thinking (Marjanovic, S. et al. 2013).

Hanlin and Chataway’s expertise in assessing health partnerships has led to work for the Swiss Tropical Institute to assist in evaluating the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) Alliance’s Advanced Market Commitment (AMC) on pneumococcal vaccines at baseline and work for the GAVI Alliance on the provision of incentives for the investment in products targeting neglected diseases.

Finance: Geoff Banda’s doctoral research in Zimbabwe highlighted the key role of financial capability for the sustainability of local pharmaceutical production (Banda, G. 2013). Norman Clark’s work with DFID’s Research into Use programme found venture capital funding essential for the promotion of African private sector biotechnology businesses.

The East African Community and firms in Zimbabwe have taken up Banda’s work on finance capability and the financing of local pharmaceutical production, emphasising its link with technological capability and innovation.



Clark, N., Frost, A., Maudlin, I. and Ward, A. (2013) Technology Development Assistance for Agriculture: Putting Research into Use in Low Income Countries Routledge Explorations in Development Studies, London.

Chataway, J., Wield, D., Hanlin, R., Mugwagwa, J., Smith, J. and Chatuverdi, K. (2009). Building the Case for Systems of Health Innovation in Africa, in Kalua, F.A., Awotedu, A., Kamwanja, L.A. and J.D.K. Saka (eds). (2009) Science, Technology and Innovation for Public Health in Africa. Monograph, NEPAD Office of Science and Technology, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.

Marjanovic, S. Hanlin, R., Diepeveen, S., Chataway, J. (2013) ‘Research capacity building in Africa: Networks, institutions and local ownership’ Journal of International Development, 25(7) 936-946.

Banda, G. (2013) Finance as a ‘forgotten technological capability’ for promoting African local pharmaceutical manufacture. International Journal of Technology Management and Sustainable Development, 12(2) 117-135.