7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Territorial innovation policy: the promising area for Africa-EU cooperation

Territorial innovation policy: the promising area for Africa-EU cooperation

Towards African smart specialisations? Opportunities and challenges for an innovation-led, sustainable and inclusive development

EDD 2017 Lab Debate: Territorial innovation policy, African-EU cooperation

Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 10:45 to 12:00

Key points

  • Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) help regions focus on their strengths.
  • S3 are relevant to issues like climate change, population growth, urban development and human capital development.
  • Africa and Europe are both still at the ‘learning by doing’ stage on S3.
  • Africa-EU cooperation on S3 should be boosted. 


Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) boost regional innovation to achieve economic growth and prosperity. They help regions to focus on their strengths. This approach recognises that spreading investment too thinly across several technology fields may limit their impact in any one area.

The African Union and the EU both consider locally based innovation as key to sustainable socio-economic success. Yet Africa-EU partnerships in territorial innovation still need to be developed. So how can African-led Smart Specialisation help meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and boost Africa-EU cooperation? This will be an important topic at the 5th Africa-EU summit in November 2017. S3 have a strong bearing on issues ranging from climate change and low-carbon economics to population growth, urban development, and human capital development at local and regional levels.

Approaches to smart specialisation will vary, but most participants agreed that a mix of top-down/centralised and bottom-up/decentralised innovation is likely to work best. It should be applied mainly at the regional level.

On S3, both Europe and Africa are still very much at the “learning by doing” stage. Networking is an important element, but is not an automatic process. A lot of work is needed to get this “social technology” across to planners, technologists and others. Another prerequisite is the political will to decentralise, and this is not always easy to achieve.

Two examples from South Africa show smart specialisation at work on very different scales.

A large infrastructural project started as a renewable energy response to the country’s serious power supply problems. In just five years, from 2011 to 2016, the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme raised the share of renewable energy in South Africa’s electricity mix from zero to 5%. To achieve that, 194 billion rand (more than €13 billion) was invested in 92 different renewable energy projects, with a total power output of 6376 megawatts. The aim now is to get that share up to 20 %.

On a more modest scale, but no less important, the Mankosi community in the Eastern Cape has set up its own telephone and Internet cooperative. This is an area with 93 % unemployment, where many people survive on just one dollar a day. Yet, with some help from researchers, local people have built a network where local calls are free and others cost as little as one-third of the standard charge. Internet access is available at just a 10th of the market rate.

The network also provides much-needed direct employment and training for people in the community. Local businesses can now advertise and sell online. By 2019, the cooperative aims to extend its coverage to 10 communities, with 50,000 people, 20 schools and a wide range of small and medium-sized enterprises.   


All of the participants agreed that building trust is vital to a successful S3. The approach must be both participative (local ‘ownership’ of the specialisation is important) and entrepreneurial.

Organised by

    Uzo Madu
    Producer and Presenter
    Carlos Ladrix Osés
    Director of Strategic Programs
    Chilean Economic Development Agency CORFO
    Soledad Luca de Tena
    Alex Ntale
    ICT Chamber
    Mafini Dosso
    Economic Analyst
    Rafael Rodriguez Clemente
    Spanish National Research Council
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