• August 10th, 2020

Strategies to accelerate Namibia’s human capabilities development

Many citizens are pinning their hopes on education and training to help transform the economy by producing strategic knowledge that has the potential to power innovation and at the same time propel the economy into the 4th Industrial Revolution. However, since 2030, the year by which we aspire to reach the state of an industrialised economy, is just eleven years away, it is our contention that additional strategies need exploring to bolster the existing ones and accelerate our pace towards our goal.   

        That there is a need for additional strategies is, among other things, evidenced by the inability of existing institutions and strategies to generate innovative insights at the desired pace to address layers of pressing socio-economic challenges facing the country today. These challenges are, among other things, unemployment, poverty, inequality, and industrialisation. 

       With the advent of the information explosion, which began in the 60s, we have experienced globally a major shift resulting in knowledge taking centre-stage as the main source of competitive advantage surpassing land, financial capital, labour, and natural resources. This means countries and companies wanting to compete in today’s global marketplace need to generate new insights constantly and apply such knowledge creatively to out-perform their competitors. 

         However, currently, the Namibian economy is facing some challenges, the main one of which is the debilitating knowledge deficit: our knowledge production ‘factories’ are not producing sufficient insights to power innovation and the economy. For example, the Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme tells us that one of the major factors affecting SMEs is knowledge: most SMEs lack knowledge. Therefore, they are unable to innovate and sustain their businesses. 

        Lessons from industrial forerunners are very clear: economies that want to catch-up both technologically and industrially should not only rely on formal modes of knowledge creation alone: they should also exploit other sources of knowledge. In other words, they should not depend on codified and publishable formal knowledge produced by academia only, but should also exploit the knowledge created in action in workplaces during the application of knowledge on knowledge as well as external knowledge, i.e. knowledge generated in other contexts; for example, knowledge that is brought in through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).    

There are two main reasons why business organisations should embrace other sources of knowledge in addition to formal knowledge. First, some knowledge is situated in work contexts and is generated through interactions among workers and their environment, including clients, although such knowledge goes mostly unrecognized. Secondly, not all innovations are based on knowledge generated within the firm or entity that applies such knowledge: some innovations are a result of imitation or learning from external sources of knowledge. This is how a number of industrially advanced countries got where they are today; they learned from others, sometimes secretly!    

Moreover, a growing body of research demonstrates that organisations have come to be recognised as platforms for knowledge creation, learning, and innovation. This has brought about changes in attitudes towards workplaces. For centuries, workplaces were not regarded as sites for knowledge creation. However, new insights derived from scientific investigations have now shown that relevant knowledge with economic value is created in action in the context of application. If this is the case, why are we clinging to traditional sites and modes of knowledge production, which cannot satisfy the huge appetite of fast-capitalism? Why are we not exploring other ways of capability development and knowledge creation? 

A recent study implemented at Dinapama Manufacturers and Supplies, another local firm that manufactures custom-designed clothing, bags, and other textile products by the Namibia Institute of Public Administration and Management (Nipam), found that employees learned by doing, they also learned from others as well as from external sources. This study concluded that the participants learned different skills in the workplace. Therefore, the workplace should be seen as having the potential to help address the country’s knowledge and skills deficit.   

       The second strategy proposed here, which related to the first one, advocates the use of external knowledge/ technology transfer. This is particularly useful in the context of foreign direct investment and is congruent with the President’s call to lay the ‘groundwork’ for the 4th Industrial Revolution. Technology transfer involves a situation in which a unit or entire organisation is affected by knowledge originating from another organisation or unit. An often-cited example in this regard is Hyundai, a developing country automotive manufacturer which through the use of external knowledge managed to enhance its technological capability over the years before developing its own in-house R & D capability. Hyundai, which is today one of the global automotive leaders, gradually learned from international organisations. They brought in foreign engineers to work with the local ones. In the process, they learned:  Hyundai absorbed externally generated knowledge and applied it to modify products and later to manufacture new ones.

* Dr Metusalem Nakale is a Senior Consultant at the Namibian Institute of Public Administration and Management (Nipam) who specializes in Research and Capacity Evaluation. 

Staff Reporter
2019-09-20 08:11:20 | 10 months ago

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