FABlab Namibia features as part of the SA Innovation Summit 2016

FABlab Namibia represented the country at the South African Innovation Summit 2016 that took place in Ekurhuleni, South Africa last week. The summit brought together innovations and innovators from across the globe, as an entry point into southern Africa. Two local FABlab representatives participated in technical panel discussions with other international presenters.
The 9th edition of this annual summit saw like-minded organisations and people exchange ideas and best-practises on innovation and bridging the technological divide at a grass roots level across the globe.
Where FABlab Namibia in Windhoek is already a thriving hub of innovation and invention, other parts of Africa are only now investing in facilities to drive innovation to the next level. That is why during the summit the city of Ekurhuleni pledged the sum of R90 million to roll-out fabrication laboratories (Fablabs) across the city to support technology skills transfer and provide a platform for local innovations to take shape.
Finance Minister, Hon. Calle Schlettwein, was already committed to fostering innovation back in 2014 when he unveiled the first FABlab in Namibia at the University of Science and Technology (NUST).
This summit has been hosted every year for the past nine years. It instills the idea amongst stakeholders that entrepreneurs who possess innovative business ideas and the determination to transform them into viable employment and create enterprises, need to be supported.
“These are the employers of the future who will produce goods and services for domestic consumption and export and nurturing them is essential for the growth of each country’s economy” the FABlab team said upon returning from the summit.
“It is the only way to drive innovation, combat unemployment and develop what is dubbed “hybrid employee” skills in the communities.”
Speakers at the summit covered innovative topics such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics, Virtual Reality and applications in Business, Social Innovations and key technology trends. FABlab Namibia’s Kirstin Wiedow and Bjorn Wiedow gained more insight into the rapid technological developments that are happening, such as Deep Learning, which is considered the “next big thing” by Silicon Valley investor firm Fenox VC. They also listened to FNB Business South Africa’s CIO predict and prepare organisations for the fact that they need to embrace becoming 100% digital. “If Namibia truly wants to be competitive and become a knowledge-based society it needs to be part of these summits and apply and implement best practices and case studies locally so that Namibia as a nation may benefit and flourish” they said.
Bjorn Wiedow participated in a panel discussion under the theme: “Accelerating Innovation: FABlabs” stating how to adapt locally what has worked internationally. The other panellists comprised Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) FABfoundation’s Sherry Lassiter, Alejandra Dias of Fablab Mexico and the South American Fablab Network and Fabio Lopes of Fablab Colombia.
“Participating in this panel discussion on behalf of NUST and representing innovation in Namibia is something to be proud of as it shows how far Namibia already is when it comes to innovation, fabrication and technological developments in comparison to a lot of other countries and regions around the world” he said.
Kirstin Wiedow, the Director at FABlab at the University of Science and Technology said “it is essential for stakeholders and those in charge of budgets to understand and back these labs as they truly transform communities and bridge the technological divide.
Although Fablab Namibia initially garnered support and funding from MITSMED to start-ups, it has been a real challenge to secure further support as people don’t seem to understand the need for investment to reap the rewards in the short, medium and long-term value. These summits will hopefully raise the necessary awareness on the ‘potential’ contribution of FABlabs to the nation’s economy with government and business alike.”