Innovation observatory to help build scientific system

The West African nation of Mauritania plans to set up a national observatory for innovation, an innovation hub and a fund to support economic development and its efforts to pursue the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

These new projects were outlined in a report, Assessment and prospects of government action 2022-2023. A French version and an Arabic version were presented to parliament by Prime Minister Mohamed Ould Bilal on 26 January.

These new projects, aimed at improving innovation capabilities and entrepreneurship, are in line with Mauritania’s research and innovation strategy (2022-26). It calls for a stronger research and innovation governance system and support for the incubation and emergence of start-ups along with building bridges between research, industry, society and higher education.

Innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem

Mauritania’s lack of scientific capacity, weak linkages between universities and industry as well as lacklustre innovation capabilities and entrepreneurial ecosystem, have been highlighted in international reports.

Mauritania ranks 129th out of 132 countries in the 2022 Global Innovation Index (GII) which measures the multi-dimensional facets of innovation. It also ranks 132nd in knowledge and technology output, 127th in high-tech exports and 112th in human capital and research.

Employing the Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI), Mauritania ranks 136th out of 137 countries, according to a June 2021 study entitled ‘An Analysis of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of Malawi: The Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI) Approach’.

Out of 141 countries, Mauritania was ranked 140th in entrepreneurial culture, 137th for graduates’ skill sets, 130th for research and development and 128th for innovation capability, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report.

Mauritania has also been lagging in education, where the gross tertiary enrolment rate is 5.7%, compared to a regional average of 33.75% in 2019, according to the Arab development portal.

Projects outlined

The focus of the national innovation observatory will be on generating and spreading knowledge about innovation and its impact on development as well as promoting communication and collaboration among higher education institutions.

It will focus on technology transfer, innovation and competitiveness, the formulation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and the formulation and analysis of innovation indicators, along with preparing studies for solving complex societal problems.

The innovation hub will focus on supporting entrepreneurial development, the formation of new ventures and developing scalable business plans and market-testable products and services, along with acting as an intermediary between the spheres of university and industry to provide interactive linkages and promote effective utilisation of university research.

In addition, the innovation fund is a grant funding programme for technological solutions and innovative business ideas to transform research findings into products and services for the market.

Expert’s view

Dr Béatrice Rouzé, an international senior expert for higher education and research at Lille University, France, told University World News that “the innovation-induced projects are worthy initiatives”.

“These new projects form a very important cornerstone for translating Mauritania’s research and innovation strategy on the ground along with producing next-generation university graduates that are market- and industry-ready, who could lead the road for achieving SDGs,” added Rouzé, who is a member of the international panel of experts who participated in preparing Mauritania’s research and innovation strategy.

“As innovation processes without entrepreneurship cannot create progress at societal level, entrepreneurship should integrate the entire SDGs dimension in the business plan,” Rouzé added.

Mohamed Yeslem Elbagher, a former Mauritanian researcher at the University of Nouakchott, told University World News: “If implemented correctly and provided with a supporting environment and atmosphere, these new projects could [be] the first steps to transform [the] university system from being a national factory of unemployment and a producer for certificate-holders to an innovative and entrepreneurial system for development by actively supporting entrepreneurs (university students, and local entrepreneurs) through courses, incubation and acceleration activities as well as engaging with external stakeholders in their surrounding communities, to spur innovation-driven products, processes and novel-solutions for developmental challenges.”

Echoing Elbagher’s view, Al-Khalil Ould Mohamed Al-Hafiz, a former secretary-general of the General Union of Mauritanian Students, cautiously welcomed the new projects, saying to University World News that “definitely, these new projects, theoretically on paper, look like ideal tools for building a knowledge-based economy in Mauritania”.

However, “it remains to be seen how they will be practically implemented on the Mauritanian ground for producing the desired outcomes and the needed impact on society, given the local challenges and barriers, including limited financial resources, lack of human capital and weak higher education and science infrastructure,” added Mohamed Al-Hafiz.