UK and SA collaborate to address socio-economic effects of Covid-19 in SA communities

In an attempt to reduce impacts of the pandemic, United Kingdom and South African innovators collaborated efforts to innovate and contribute to a path of recovery and growth for South African communities. The ‘Scaling Out For Impact’ (SOFI) is a collaborative project which aims to remedy township economic hardships and the impact of Covid-19 on low-income communities in South Africa.

The project is a co-venture between South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the Black Business Council, Newton Fund and Innovate UK (part of UK Research and Innovation). The project is supported by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) of South Africa and delivered through its commissioned partner Liminal as part of its commitment to the Newton Fund.

It is evident that the socio-economic effects of the pandemic are felt particularly hard in both rural and township economies of South Africa. The project’s focus areas are the three pillars which are also key strategic priorities for the DSI, i.e. Circular Economy, Health Care and Digital Access. Circular Economy attempts to respond to waste challenges and ways to create regenerative local economies. Health Care seeks to address the impact of the pandemic, how to strengthen the recovery and resilience of local communities and other health challenges. Lastly, Digital Access concerns itself with improving human-centred and sustainable access to services through digital technology and tools.

According to Mr Du Toit, Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation and Resources at the DSI, There is a complete alignment with DTI’s policies through which the department seeks to build an ecosystem which is responsive to the imperatives of using inclusive innovation to fight poverty in South Africa.

Innovators on the programme from both countries attended a six weeks programme designed to gain insights into inclusive innovation through sharing a diverse set of expertise, technologies and experiences. Through this collaboration, ideas were showcased as potential solutions to aid elucidate the underlying challenges.

During the virtual showcase which was held in February 2021, fifteen projects presented their innovations and only four partnerships were announced for follow-on joint funding from both TIA and Innovate UK. The four chosen projects are:

The Future Matters:

A community engagement programme centred on material research, organic waste management, and skills creation. The primary objective of this pilot project is to target the intersection of social, economic, and environmental impact through workshops and community co-creation. The Future Matters is a collaboration between Big Circle Studios co-founder Kiera Crowe from SA, Eco Invader Solutions from SA and Materiom led by Zoe Powell from the UK.

SA Waste and Biomass Valorisation (waste to value):  

This innovative initiative focuses on the creation of low cost, high quality filament for 3D printing technology to manufacture products from recycled materials, reducing plastic and bio-waste pollution. The project will be implemented in the Umlazi community and is linked to Mangosuthu University of Technology. It seeks to offer waste collectors a fairer price for plastic collection and further filament production would mean skills development for South African youth as well as potential job creation linked to the successful market share of PET filament made locally. The project is a collaboration between SA Rebuilders from SA and Tech for Trade from the UK.

4IR Aqua security:

The 4IR Aqua security project strives to accelerate the adoption of smart technologies, monitoring and management systems and water security and sustainability in South Africa. It will deliver tailored support and mentoring to entrepreneurs and innovators to deliver a positive impact around water security and sustainability. The project is spearheaded by ICRD Group Holdings in SA, Hexsor Scientific Limited from the UK, Amanzi Technologies, Memranology Limited from SA as well as AquAffirm Limited from the UK.

Sexier Waxier (Blockchain Eco-Surf Wax)

This is a pilot created to secure distribution of an innovative high-value sugarcane wax from a biorefinery waste stream in SA. The unique properties of this sugarcane may be applicable in the cosmetics industry and thus will stimulate the growth of the cosmetics industry in rural communities. The project is a collaboration between Sucrochem (Pty) Ltd led by Warwick Thompson from SA and BlockMark Technologies Ltd led by Tom Alcott from the UK.

Dr. Anitha Ramsuran from Technology Innovation Agency, Innovation for Inclusive Development Manager together with Mr. Niraj Saraf from Innovate UK Newton Fund Programme Manage, share the same sentiments about how much of a pleasure and a privilege it is working with TIA, BBC and 38 innovators on SOFI. They both attest to the programme being a testament to the collaborative innovation to lift people out of poverty, transform lives and their environment. The pair is looking forward to the implementation of these co-created projects including tracking the impact the project will make to the communities involved.

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