Streamlining the Technological Development and Innovation Driven Change in Afghanistan.

Challenges and Opportunities of Innovation in Afghanistan Computer Sciences Faculties – Part 1.

This article – By Jawad Saidi, concentrating on innovation opportunities in Afghanistan is the first release of a series of articles on innovations in Afghanistan; mainly concentrating on the public universities including the opportunities, challenges, and practical steps.  This article deals with ICT innovation and it’s adaptation in Afghanistan and and further goes to stress on opportunities and ends with a small conclusion that further opens the way to the second article of the series.

Innovation described as “the diffusion of new products and services of a technological nature into the economy”[1], plays an important role in development of countries. It also plays a crucial role in economic development of especially developing countries. It can make a difference in addressing urgent developmental challenges.[2] The buildup of innovation capacities has played a central role in the growth dynamics of successful developing countries. ‘Rapid economic catch-up depends on countries’ entrepreneurs being able to absorb and creatively adapt international technological knowledge’[3] The same principle applies for post-war economy of Afghanistan which received massive amount of foreign aid during past 14 years in different areas.

Continued national development directed at the creation of a self-reliant economy is possible only when supported by steady progress in science and technology.[4] Universities and institutes of higher education are among main sources of innovation in both developed and developing world. Universities, industry and government working together; can collectively build a national innovation system[1] to solve the national challenges in different areas, and push the economy forward.

ICT sector offers many opportunities for innovation. In context of Afghanistan, rapid growth of ICT and telecommunication industry enjoying 2.4 billion USD of investment with 204,000 individuals working [6], provides further opportunities for innovation and growth. Unfortunately, the pace of innovation in Afghanistan ICT sector for Universities as the source of innovation is not significant. Only a few number of researches have been conducted and published in international journals by universities. In this article we are trying to outline a non-exhaustive list of major challenges which hampers the pace of ICT innovation in Afghanistan’s public universities.

The role of government intervention is crucial for promotion of innovation in developing countries [5]. Ministry of higher education has already taken some steps toward promotion of research and development in public universities. It formed a committee called National Committee of Research in 2013 which was responsible for developing a policy for promotion of research, calling for proposals, granting funds for approved proposals using donations from World Bank. The importance of the research has been reflected in strategic plan of higher education. A set of regulations has been passed toward the financial independence of universities. ICT is in the list of majors with higher priority for Ministry of Higher Education. However, there are far more factors which need to be considered by government for encouraging innovation.

Additionally, Ministry of Communication and IT has conducted various projects in promotion of ICT innovation in the society, namely, IBTIKAAR[7], DEWAE[8] are among the ongoing projects. There are few projects such as iLabs[10], funded by international aid agencies for the same purpose. Despite of the performed actions, the performance of computer science faculties of public universities as the main man-power supplier of ICT industry lags behind. They still have no or minimal place in technology initiatives in the ICT industry.

A series of efficient policies, institutional frameworks, and regulations are needed to bolster innovation in public universities of Afghanistan. The innovation process in Afghanistan is as projects are span up by very motivated individuals or small groups of people sometimes using foreign partners. Besides that, they can receive support from projects in MCIT if they meet eligibility criteria. Many innovative projects are born using aid from foreign aid agencies.

 Forms of Innovation:

Innovation in developing countries should be understood as something new to a local context. From global perspective, three forms of innovation can be distinguished. We will look at the forms and further take a glance to its relevance to Afghanistan.

  • Local Improvements (adoption): Is the adoption of technologies which are more or less available worldwide or locally to improve the domestic situation or solve unanswered questions.
  • Technology Adaptation: Materializes in the building up of competitive activities with some adaptation made to existing technologies.
  • Technology Creation: Is the design and production of technologies of a worldwide significance.

Local Improvements:

Every country has its own unique set of problems. This uniqueness is due to diverse cultural, economic, and geographic situation of the country. The challenges such as security, corruption, health were subject of many ICT innovations in Afghanistan in the post-civil-war era. For example, a mobile application and web service called ZAMANAT[11] is developed for tackling the security problems which may arise in the city. The opportunities for ICT innovation of this type (Local improvement) is numerous. For example, implementation a Management Information System for a non-government or government organization is considered an innovation for developing countries. Although MIS is not something new in developed world and is implemented regularly. Likewise, technology adoption for developing countries can be categorized as a special kind of innovation. The most important point about technology adoption is choosing the right technology. Research shows that developing countries suffer most from wrong technology adoption. Afghanistan must develop capacity to choose the right technology to adopt, and accelerate the technology transfer to benefit most from advantages of these technologies.

Technology Adaptation:

Although, the opportunities in this section are fewer than the local improvements category. This type of innovation needs more scientific and technical knowledge than the first one. For instance, the localization of various popular applications such as Open Office to national languages. A country can’t develop effectively without developing capacity to properly choose technology to adopt, make some improvements and adapt it to local needs. The companies such as NETLINKS[9] currently adapt OpenERP to local needs and charge their customers for implementation and adaptation.

Technology Creation:

Innovation with global significance has the fewest opportunities in Afghanistan. This type of innovation needs great understanding of technologies and problems around the globe. Additionally, due to undeveloped entrepreneurial climate in Afghanistan, this country has not been able to take advantage of this type of innovation.

To conclude, although we don’t go in-depth in to the kinds of innovation for Afghanistan; it’s very clear that there are certain opportunities that are can be appreciated and further developed on. Furthermore, the understanding of on-ground realities of challenges will be the main driver behind opening the gates of innovation for Afghanistan; thus, in next article focus will be mainly the challenges of innovation in Afghanistan and mainly on the computer science faculties of the public universities in Afghanistan.


About the Author: Jawad Saidi as part of the ITRCA Team is pursuing his graduate studies at Technical University of Berlin alongside working as a graduate student researcher at Internet Network Architectures research group, TU-Berlin. His report for a project received the best student report title from TK (Tele Kommunikation Netzwerk) research group in 2015. He is a dedicated network-programmer with special research interests in design and analysis of network protocols, Software Defined Networking, Cloud Computing, data-center optimization, and ICT4D. He has previously employed as an Instructor in Kabul Education University and different other private universities in Afghanistan.

References:

[1]         J. Aubert, “Promoting Innovation in Developing Countries : a Conceptual Framework,” 2005.

[2]         OECD, “Innovation for Development: A DISCUSSION OF THE ISSUES AND AN OVERVIEW OF WORK F THE OECD DIRECTORATE FOR SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INDUSTRY,” no. May, p. 31, 2012.

[3]         W. Naudé, A. Szirmai, and M. Goedhuys, “Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries,” no. 1, pp. 1–8, 2011.

[4]         H.-S. Choi, “Science and technology policies for industrialization of developing countries,” Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 225–239, 1986.

[5]         C.-O. Lee, “The role of the government and R&D infrastructure for technology development,” Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 33–54, 1988.

[6]       Mcit.gov.af, “Telecom’s Sector Recent Achivements – Ministry of   Communications and Information Technology”, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://mcit.gov.af/en/page/4876/6005. [Accessed: 23- Dec- 2015].

[7]         Ibtikaar.gov.af, “Home | Ibtikaar”, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://ibtikaar.gov.af/. [Accessed: 20- Dec- 2015].

[8]         Dewae.mcit.gov.af, “DEWAE”, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://dewae.mcit.gov.af/. [Accessed: 21- Dec- 2015].

[9]         Netlinks.af, “Leading Web Development, Database Development, Web Hosting, Email Hosting, Software Development, OpenERP Implementation company in Afghanistan”, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.netlinks.af/. [Accessed: 18- Dec- 2015].

[10]      Ilabs.technation.af, “– Kabul Innovation Lab–“, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://ilabs.technation.af/. [Accessed: 18- Dec- 2015].

[11]      Ahg.af, “Afghanistan Holding Group”, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.ahg.af. [Accessed: 21- Dec- 2015].