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Rwanda pilots technology innovation fund

New fund plans to link researchers with entrepreneurs

A project to test-run a Rwandan research and innovation fund is due to be launched at the end of March with the aim of boosting the creation of user-friendly technologies.

The pilot is backed with US$175,000 seed money from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and a matching grant from the Rwandan government.

The Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund (RIEF) is intended to fund joint projects between researchers and entrepreneurs in order to produce locally applicable innovative technologies.

The RIEF was one of the recommendations of a January 2010 national workshop convened by the Rwandan government, supported by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and UNECA, to discuss how science and technology can help Rwanda achieve the Millennium Development Goals. It is part of efforts to build a sustainable innovation culture across Africa.

The hope is to raise US$1 million by the end of 2012, said Mactar Seck, the fund’s project manager. The additional funds will be mobilised from the government and local and international donors, he said.

At the pilot stage, each project grant will total a maximum of 50 million Rwandan francs (US$84,000) per researcher. Four or five projects will be funded, and priority areas include agriculture, manufacturing and information communication technologies.

A technical committee of representatives from the education and finance ministries and external experts will make the final selection. The first grants will be awarded in July or August.

If the pilot is successful, the plan is to ramp up the funding in the second phase of the fund. But in order to do this, the pilot round has to demonstrate the fund’s credibility, said Remy Twiringiyimana, director of science and technology in education and research institutions in the education ministry.

“The ability to raise donations and sustain donors’ commitments both within and outside Rwanda will largely depend on its perceived credibility,” he told Research Africa.

Rwanda is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest growing economies. The economy has bounced back since the 1994 genocide and is expected to grow 6.5 per cent this year, rising to 7.8 per cent in 2013. Some economists have predicted that Rwanda will beat Kenya to become a middle-income country.

The innovation fund is part of a range of government efforts to bolster science and technology as a driver of development.

Antonio Pedro, director of UNECA in eastern Africa, applauded the initiative: “We endeavour to attract the interest of other governments in Africa to start such initiatives,” he said.

He indicated that the next country in which UNECA would try to set up an endowment fund would be Tanzania.