BioInnovate Africa and the Regional Coordination Unit (RCU) of the World Bank-funded Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), which are both icipe programmes, in collaboration with the Centre of Excellence in Reproductive Health Innovations (CERHI) of the University of Benin (UNIBEN) jointly organized a workshop on ‘Strengthening innovation ecosystems in universities in West and Central Africa’ held on 29-30 April 2019 in Benin City, Nigeria.
The workshop was proposed by Centre Leader, CERHI Prof Friday Okonofua, and adopted as one of the follow-up actions from the first Africa-Japan Higher Education forum organised by the World Bank in October 2018 in Tokyo and Kyoto. Prof. Okonofua was inspired by a presentation made at the forum by Dr. Julius Ecuru on icipe’s innovative models of translating research outputs into practical uses in society.
More than 70 participants from African Centres of Excellence (ACEs) in Nigeria, Ghana, The Gambia, and Benin attended the workshop and gained insight from presentations by BioInnovate Africa Programme Manager Dr Julius Ecuru and RCU Manager Dr Moses Osiru, as well as Prof Crispus Kiamba, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi (UoN) and former cabinet secretary in the education ministry of Kenya. Other facilitators included Prof Akuekegbe Omonkhua, a medical biochemist from CERHI and Ms Shira Mukiibi, BioInnovate Africa Business Development Manager.
A key point of discussion at the workshop was how universities as centres of research excellence and innovation, can contribute more effectively to sustainable economic growth and development. Also notable was that universities should transform into developmental institutions, not only focusing on teaching and research but also actively involved in building sustainable businesses that grow the economy. Collaboration was highlighted as a key ingredient necessary for universities to be innovative and transformative. According to Dr. Ecuru, “Collaboration enables learning, and interactive learning is fuel for innovation.” He further noted, “Universities need to appreciate the value of working co-creatively with local governments and industry to turn research endeavours in to practical uses in society.”
The workshop left a positive footprint at CEHRI and the University of Benin to propel Prof Okonofua’s vision for the institution to transform Benin City into an innovation cluster. Historically, Benin City was known for bronze making which is no longer the case today, but the region remains one of Nigeria’s food baskets especially in plantain and yam production. CERHI as a developing centre, hopes to roll out digital solutions to increase rural women access to antenatal care and child health care services, and establish whether the Nigerian diet is linked to increased incidence of dizygotic twinning among some Nigerian communities.