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For Emma, inclusive innovation is crucial

THERE is no doubt that a lot of work has been done when it comes to supporting and promoting innovation and innovators in Tanzania; Many initiatives by the government and private sector toward that goal are ongoing.

However, one thing is clear: There are still no workable strategies for supporting inclusive innovation for sustainable development.

The challenge is not unique in Tanzania but in the whole of East Africa region and Africa in general.

So, it is delightful to have one of Tanzanian daughters, Emma Nkonoki, who has delved into making sure that her country and Africa benefits from inclusive innovation.

Emma is a researcher, innovation and development expert.

“I am not so satisfied with the level of contribution of innovation to development in Tanzania, because majority of citizens are not fully involved in the process,” says Emma.

She is emphasizing on grassroots innovations, especially in the informal sector that involves majority of people in Tanzania and Africa.

“We need to preach and practice inclusive innovation. We have to fight to get to an ecosystem where no one is left behind,” she notes.

On the other hand, she encourages innovators to try hard to use resources they have to move forward and not to be discouraged by lack of finance.

According to her, innovators can start to create and grow with what they have, which includes knowledge and networks, and that the next and most important thing is for the government to have more resources and special programs to support innovators.

Emma who has spent 21 years in Finland, is now pursuing a PhD at the University of Turku in the same country.

Her research focuses on the importance of grassroots innovations and contribution of the informal sector to the economy of a country.

Some of the things she is interested in her study is the role of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), in grassroots innovations and how to build an inclusive technology innovation ecosystem.

With the fact that technology is not accessed by many in Africa, Emma is trying to understand how even a simple mobile phone can influence the growth of innovations.

“The day grassroots innovators will come closer and cooperate fully at institutional level, that is when we can say we are together and we are all fighting poverty as one,” the researcher explains.

She believes that her PhD will help to shed light on the contribution of grassroots innovators to development and to the economy as a whole, and that it will assist Tanzania and Africa to understand that it is through inclusion of all that planet “development” will be reached.

Emma believes in what is called ‘African solutions to African problems’, and that the rest of the people and networks around are only for supporting.

Innovation should not segregate Tanzanians, but rather unite them towards a common goal of sustainable development.

For this to happen, the researcher advises a three point approach: One is more use of kiswahili language in innovation and development related activities; Two, to make sure that the uneducated are not ignored and left out in innovation ecosystem, and third is spreading development equally all around the country, especially in rural areas.

Emma who was born in Dar es Salaam in 1976 owes her success to her primary school teachers, and particularly remembers her mathematics teacher, mama Mndolwa at Mlimani Primary School.

Both her parents encouraged her to go to school, but her father who was a university professor at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), kept following her performance closely, and encouraged her to give it her best.

She later went to Jangwani Secondary School and then Tambaza High School, where she did Physics, Chemistry and Biology (PCB), and mathematics and civics as additional compulsory subjects.

Her performance was exceptional, which made it easier for her to go to Finland for further studies.

She always loved science, and the only time she felt disappointed was when she could not get admission to a medical school.

“My father told me not to give up, he told me to go on and study business.

He could see business asthe future, and really encouraged me to look at business and development careers,” she reminisces.

In Finland, she did Bachelors of Business and Administration; Masters of Science in Economics and Business Administration (International Business) and then a professional Master of Project Management.

Emma regards her father as her role model.

She remembers working with him for two years after her high school graduation as a research assistant in two development and research projects he was coordinating at the UDSM.

“This is where my journey as a development expert started,” she says.

Her long stay and working with Finnish NGOs, universities and other organisations taught her that focus and discipline are key for success.

Emma is now working as an expert in innovation and development for the Finnish Development NGOs Platform (Fingo) in Helsinki, Finland, and is focusing on bringing NGOs and other innovation ecosystem actors together to use innovative ways and technology for a common goal of development.

Combining innovation and development is natural, but bringing people from different backgrounds, fields and cultures together for a common outcome is not that easy.

Encouraging, forging and fostering partnerships, networking and collaboration between Finnish and East African innovation ecosystem actors are Emma’s main tasks at work.

Inclusion as a serious matter

The researcher advices fellow scientists, decision makers and development partners to always think of inclusion if they want to attain any sustainable development. Should people fail in that, Emma says, nations will be talking about the same development challenges 20 years from now.

“We should leave no one behind in all our doings. Let us avoid too much politics, because there are politicians who are supposed to handle that part.

We can influence their work with our contributions and opinions, but let everyone handle their responsibilities effectively, let us work hard,” she says.

Girl empowerment

When it comes to girlempowerment, most families in Tanzania and Africa still raise boys with the notion that they are not supposed to do much at home, that they need to concentrate in education, and that it is the girls who have to divide their brains and energy between education and home chores.

Emma thinks this is not the right thing to do, because it continues to affect the future. She says girl empowerment should start right from the family level.

For her, treating boys as masters and girls as servants is a wrong approach that needs to be corrected.

Advice to young people

She advices young people to use available resources they have very carefully and positively to their advantage.

“Our parents studied, did work and business and survived without a lot of things that we now have, they managed to raise us in very challenging times,” she says while encouraging the youth to use their time, the internet, and books very wisely.

She also encourages the youth to be confident, because it is a virtue that allows someone to go for things that many would not dare try to do.

Emma works hard but also plays hard, and this is how she balances work and family life.

“I respect my weekends and holidays very much, I use the time well, when I have a holiday, I prefer to use some of it to travel to new places without my books and laptop, with my family.”

  • Emmanuel Rubagumya writes about science, technology and innovation.
  • Email: innovationstz@ gmail.com

Mwagala Adventist Women Entrepreneurship Group in Misungwi District ...


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