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Gaining inspiration at the ultimate innovation source

Professor Puleng LenkaBula, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, recently visited Silicon Valley in the United States of America (USA) as part of a delegation led by Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation. This is one of the efforts that comes after the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR) established a set of eight recommendations setting out South Africa’s strategy, response, and framework for the 4IR.

Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Puleng LenkaBula, on the premises of Google

4IR is located at the centre of South Africa’s digital revolution. To access a technocratic future, where artificial intelligence (AI) and neural networks play a significant role, the South African government intends to adopt an interventionist approach. To trigger the industrial and research applications of the 4IR, the government has identified a need to bolster investment in human capital and identify key areas of the economy which require investment. Given LenkaBula’s vision to position Unisa as a centre of societal solutions, she accepted the invitation to form part of the South African delegation of the ministry-initiated trip which aimed to hold discussions with leading multinational companies such as Google and Amazon, Stanford University, and government entities, among others.

Prof. Puleng LenkaBula with Jeff Dean, a computer scientist and specialist in machine learning, associated with Google

The exercise also aimed to gain insights into policies and plans governing the innovation ecosystem in the USA to inform innovation policy development and implementation in South Africa. The effort also sought to promote strategic partnerships with the respective entities in key disruptive technologies, such as AI, which will benefit the development of South African capacities.  Minister Nzimande said in a statement: “Building capabilities through education and research, development and innovation are a prerequisite for national economic competitiveness and is viewed as critical for poverty alleviation, addressing inequalities in society, and delivering on the inclusive and equitable vision, as outlined in the National Development Plan (NDP). Silicon Valley is home to many start-ups and global technology companies that could serve as important case studies for our context. This will be an important tool for understanding how we can leverage the 4IR to revitalise the economy.”

Prof. Puleng LenkaBula visiting the World Economic Forum in San Francisco, Center for 4IR in the USA. Visits such as this one are aimed at enhancing Unisa's potential partnerships on 4IR work which forms part of the 10 Catalytic Niche Areas

LenkaBula’s participation in the ministry’s delegation is a step towards asserting Unisa's continued support for the country’s digitisation efforts, including the institution’s digitisation programme, and also towards realising her vision of ensuring that the university contributes to the development of the country.

*By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2022/05/03