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The Rise of Africa: Integration between ISI and ITT

Updated: Jun 11, 2022

The Rise of Africa:

Integration between Intrinsic Social Innovation and International Technology Transfer

Written before visiting Tunisia, North Africa

By Professor Richard Li-Hua

ELITE Innovation College Cambridge, UK

21st April, 2022

Many thanks for the invitation by Tunisia-Africa Business Council placed under the auspices of the President of the Tunisian Republic, Mr Kais Saied, and sustained by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Immigration and Tunisians Abroad and the Ministry of Economy and Planning, I feel very privileged to attend the International Conference of “FINANCING INVESTMENT & TRADE IN AFRICA, May 25th and 26th 2022. It is my great honour to deliver my keynote as: Rise of Africa: Integration between Intrinsic Social Innovation and International Technology Transfer on the Africa Day.

For a long time, Africa used to be regarded as the “Forgotten Continent”, which was to some extent marginalized. However, with the world gradually moves to post COVID-19 era, it will be Africa’s turn and opportunity. It is time for us to now call the world’s attention to the social and economic development of the African nations.

As we are aware that there is no equittable sharing of global technological advances and their application in raising the welfare of states and there was no forcing basis to bring together developed and developing countriess in developing collaboration, although international agencies, including United Nations, World Bank, OECD, BRICS, etc. have constantly made efforts to push in this direction. With unbalanced economic development, Africa must call upon itself to benefit from the intrinsic social innovation (ISI) and the new opportunities emerging from the pandemic including the International Technology Transfer (ITT).

It is important to understand, however, the rise of a national economy depends on both internal and external factors. No doubt, international technology transfer, through which advanced technology and equipment along with investment could be brought in, can serves as external dynamic factor, however, the internal factor - the intrinsic social innovation and soft capacity building even play an more important role in building a sustainable economy and society.

In the forthcoming keynote, I would like to discuss the inter-relationship between intrinsic social innovation (ISI) and international technology transfer (ITT), which, with complement to each other, become driving force of national progress and social and economic development, an inexhaustible power of the national prosperity. I would like to highlight the following points:

1. My Personal Connection with China and African Continent

40 years ago, in early 1983, I worked in Libya as a young interpreter and Associate Project Manager to Tripoli, Libya, sent by China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC). I felt quite excited and filed with dreams as this was my first time abroad after graduation from my university. This became my first career in construction for 15 years and enabled me to visit and work in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, and South Africa. My many visits to and work experience in the African Continent always let me feel that I have affiliated with Africa as that was my first foreign job since I was quite young at the time and always have the passion for the construction of Africa and for the better social and economic development of Africa.

Time flies, 40 years has passed, and the world has tremendous change. It has been 25 years since I came and lived in the UK. In 1997, I left China and I started as a PhD researcher, then moved into the academic career and became a professor and later on taking on senior academic leadership roles in the higher education institutions in the UK. However, as an academic based in a few UK universities, I have profound research on international technology transfer and innovation in China and Africa with significant publication of books and papers. One of my many papers published in 2007 together with Prof Tarek Khalil – Technology Management in China: A global perspective and challenging issues, is very highly commented and still has large readers who are interested in the filed of ITT. It is my privilege to have connection with China and Africa which seems naturally for me to make a comparative study of social and economic development between China and Africa. There are similarities, such as, the splendid history, the large population, and the large land area and so on. However, there is a big gap in terms of social and economic development between the two.

China is a country in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population of more than 1.4 billion. China spans five geographical time zones and borders 14 countries, the second most of any country in the world after Russia. Covering an area of approximately 9.6 million square kilometers (3,700,000 sq mi), it is the world's third largest country. However, Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent, after Asia in both cases. At about 30.3 million km2 (11.7 million square miles) including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of Earth's total surface area and 20% of its land area. With 1.3 billion people as of 2018, it accounts for about 16% of the world's human population.

China today is the world's largest economy by GDP at purchasing power parity, second-largest economy by nominal GDP, and the world's second wealthiest country by total wealth. The country has the fastest growing major economy and is the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter. Although Africa has abundant natural resources but remains the world's poorest and least-developed continent with high levels of illiteracy, lack of access to foreign capital, and frequent tribal and military conflict. Its total nominal GDP remains behind that of the United States, China, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, India and France.

In one of my books titled Competitiveness of Chinse Firms: West meet East, I explained in more details about how China developed its sustainability and competitiveness through international technology transfer (ITT) and Intrinsic Social Innovation (ISI). This is why I would like to share the model that I used to explain the rise of China here in the context of Africa.

2. Strategic Choice for Africa with its Competitive Advantages

The African continent is believed to hold 90% of the world's cobalt, 90% of its platinum, 50% of its gold, 98% of its chromium, 70% of its tantalite, 64% of its manganese and one-third of its uranium. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has 70% of the world's coltan, a mineral used in the production of tantalum capacitors for electronic devices such as cell phones. The DRC also has more than 30% of the world's diamond reserves while Guinea is the world's largest exporter of bauxite. With lack of proper strategic analyses and coherent strategic choice, the growth in Africa has been driven mainly by services and not manufacturing or agriculture, it has been growth without jobs and without reduction in poverty levels.

African countries have rich resources and talent in multiple languages and the youngest population of any continent. By 2055, the African Continent’s 15-24 year-olds are expected to be more than double the 2015 total of 226 million, which would be the driving force for the rise of Africa.

Africa has excellent resources for the development of tourist industry. Africa straddles the equator and the prime meridian making it the only continent in the world to be situated in all four cardinal hemispheres. It is the only continent to stretch from the northern temperate to southern temperate zones. The majority of the continent and its countries are in the Northern Hemisphere, with a substantial portion and number of countries in the Southern Hemisphere.

3. Significance of Intrinsic Social Innovation

30 years ago, in the 80’s of last century, I worked in CECEC based in China, I had many opportunities to travel and see African countries. I did not see a big difference between China and Africa in terms of social and economic development at the time.

Since the reform and opening up in 1978, China has made the progress within 40 years that many countries had taken almost a century. China’s economic reform and open and joining the WTO in 2001 has lifted over 700 million population out of poverty. China has become the second largest economy in the world. The international community uses miracles to describe China's tremendous development and achievements. China's story has attracted worldwide attention. Sharing the development experiences and innovation opportunities with the world is China’s intention and the world looks forward to it.

People of different histories, different civilizations, and different cultural backgrounds deserve to know and understand China’s story from many aspects. It is very important for the international community to have equal dialogue, friendly exchanges, live in peace and harmony with all the civilizations of the world and the friends from all walks of life, and seek common ground while maintaining differences.

Intrinsic means belonging to the essential nature and originating and included wholly within an organ. What would be the driving force behind Africa's rise? It is an indisputable fact that Africa has grown from week to strong. But is this transformation and rise abrupt, or does it have deep historical and cultural roots? If it is the former, then its prosperity is sustainable. If it is based on long-term historical accumulation and solid cultural foundation, and it will seize the opportunity of innovation, find a major solution. In this way, it has inheritance and historical continuity, and it must have sustainable development.

Throughout the development history of the world, the rise of a nation-continent is often inseparable from the rise of its national spirit and the revival of its national culture. In modern society, the prosperity of a country is often closely related to the innovation consciousness of the country. In order to innovate, understand the world development trend, and lead to the future, the nation must have a deep understanding of history and the past. Know who I am? Where did I come from? And where to go?

How did the human society develop? Where is the driving force for development? There is no doubt that the ability of intrinsic social innovation and technological innovation is crucial. Innovation is the driving force for human development. Conceptual innovation, theoretical innovation, technological innovation, and social management innovation are all the driving forces that promote the development of human society. We believe that intrinsic social innovation, conceptual innovation, and theoretical innovation are primary. Imagine that if there is intrinsic social innovation in human society, then all other innovations are empty talks, which will undoubtedly stand still.

In 2017, I was invited by the United Nations Academic Impact to deliver a key note speech about innovation, you may watch the full video of my speech online and read the paper China Embracing Innovation Leads to the Future - the full explanations on intrinsic social innovation and how it underpins the rise of China published by UN Chronicle.

China embracing innovation, which is known as intrinsic social innovation, is a strategic model and a new paradigm of the wise who are seeking common development, sharing resources and a win-win solution. It is a social innovation. It refers to a novel and innovative solution to a complicated social problem. The solution is more distinctive, effective and efficient, better, equitable and sustainable than the existing approach. At the same time, it creates value for the benefit of society as a whole. The essential elements, also regarded as the four pillars of the embracing innovation theory, are as follows: a. embracing contradictions, b. heading with the times, c. seeking common ground while maintaining differences, and d. creating harmony and tolerance. These four pillars support and complement each other.

It is more reflected in the superstructure and ideological field. It contains two levels: a. it refers to concept and philosophical innovation, designed as a top guide to break the shackles of the spirit and helps problem-solving. It delivers social and political sustainability; b. it refers to innovation of technology and management, which balances the innovation strategy between indigenous innovation and imitative innovation and helps to build a solid economic foundation and sustainability. The two levels of “embracing innovation” are complementary to each other, which makes the “embracing innovation” a soul of national progress and world development, an inexhaustible power of the national prosperity and world peace.

4. International Technology Transfer Works

Technology transfer is widely recognized as the acquisition, adaption, and use of technological knowledge by an individual, group or society other than the one who developed the technology. It has been a subject of considerable interest to many groups, such as government policymakers, international funding agencies, business executives, and university presidents/vice chancellors because of the close relationship between technology transfer and economic growth.

In the living memory, following the success of technology transfer in Latin America in the 70s and Southeast Asia in the 80’s, international technology transfer works effectively from developed to the developing countries, for example, China and India are not catch-up but also emerging as economic engine of the world economy since the 90s of last century. International technology transfer is an important global development trend and the other one is the economic globalization. The economic globalization is one of the three main dimensions of globalization commonly found recently in academic literature, with the two others being political globalization and cultural globalization, as well as the general term of globalization. Economic globalization refers to the widespread international movement of goods, capital, services, technology and information. However, the world economy continues to grow. And the economies of the major OECD countries suffered during the pandemic but are all expected to grow. Emerging economies as a group continue to excel, the signature of the Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP) creates the largest free-trade zone which involves 30 % of the world population and contributes 30% of the world GDP, with China and India remaining major drivers of the global expansion. China and India, according to PwC Report “The World in 2050”, will be the 1st and 2nd largest economies by 2050.

Research evidence show that international technology transfer, a two-way process, works from the developed to the developing countries, from the West to the East and vice versa. What is needed urgently is to raise the awareness, appropriateness, effectiveness and necessity of international technology transfer in the African Continent. Therefore, we are calling global attention of international technology transfer and innovation in Africa.

With support of United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and UN Peaceever TV, following the signature of the memorandum of agreement for strategic collaboration between ELITE Innovation College Cambridge (EICC) and Tunisian International University, the Centre for International Technology Transfer in Africa (CITTA) was formally launched by the Founders of the two organizations on 25th February, 2022, witnessed with hundreds of participants in EICC’s Global Innovation Webinar.

5. E-learning of Innovation, Technology, Entrepreneurship and Leadership in the Global Higher Education in Africa during the Pandemic Era

The 21st century is an era of reflection, reconfiguration and re-consideration, an era which calls for great wisdom and great strategy, inclusiveness, to have an open-mind and to be forward-looking. I wrote this in 2016 at UN Chronical when I published my article China Embracing Innovation Leads to the Future. In fact, this statement today during the pandemic is more relevant than ever.

What is ELITE? ELITE is an acronym of E-Learning of Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship. I presented a Working Paper entitled as ELITE O2O Initiative in Creating an Innovative and Entrepreneurial University in the Global Higher Education in the Ministry of Education (MoE) Conference, Wenzhou, China, 2016. With the outbreak of COVID-19, I strongly felt an opportunity to launch the O2O innovation university. Clearly the pandemic accelerates the distance learning and online delivery but not the essential cause of online learning.

It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that ELITE Innovation College Cambridge (EICC) was consolidated and re-created. Still, its history can be traced back to 2006, when a group of outstanding management scholars launched CAMOT[1] during IAMOT [2]International Conference in Tsinghua University. The four colleges: Innovation College, Technology College, Entrepreneurship College and Global Leadership College that we have established based upon the 15 years of accumulation of global academic resources provide an academic arm of EICC and extra liberal arts curriculum to our degree and non-degree programmes and qualifications that we deliver for the enhancement of student journey which delivers alongside our degree awarding power universities.

We are privileged to be a strategic partner of United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI). Over a decade, we have been successfully organizing international conferences and forums with global universities, including Tsinghua University (CAMOT Conference 2014 Beijing) and University of Cambridge (CAMOT Conference 2016 Cambridge) and University of Law (University President Forum 2021 London) with university presidents, vice chancellors, deans, experts, scholars, government officials and doctoral candidates in the field of higher education participated in the events.

CAMOT Conference 2014 Beijing

CAMOT Conference 2016 Cambridge

However, there is an opportunity for innovation and experimentation. Innovation has never been as important as for today. There is an opportunity for the global higher education to tackle the digital landscape and identify solutions, new working approaches, innovative services and processes that create positive change in the global higher education. We would like further to define the context and the geographical area of ELITE in the Africa and have more link-minded partners in Africa.

Transformational Leadership Embraces Innovation. My philosophy in this difficult time is that transformational leadership is that which embraces innovation, and can bring about strategic change that delivers growth, effectiveness and sustainability. Leadership roles are those that translate the vision and mission of the universities into deliverable and measurable objectives and goals, develop and implement the corporate strategy and facilitate the execution of the university’s strategy by: 1). building alignment; 2). winning minds by sharing the vision of the organisation and 3). expanding the capabilities of others

Global leadership is a process of influencing the thinking, attitudes, and behaviours of a global community to work together synergistically toward a common vision and common goals. We feel that the global leadership plays an important role as we have colleagues from eight different countries working together.

Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Rresilience can be defined as the ability – and tendency – to “bounce back”, which is what people do when face disappointment, or mistreatment, or defeat, or failure, but instead of wallowing or letting things keep down, people get back up and continue with their work and lives.

In this challenging time, what we need is not only innovation and leadership but also resilience. Resilience is more important today than ever. No doubt universities should have a strong commitment in providing the education of innovation and entrepreneurship, but themselves need to become more innovative and entrepreneurial and demonstrate strong leadership with resilience to make change for the enhancement of the student journey.

Strategic Instruments in Raising the Awareness. EICC/TIU/PUS Global University President Forum (GUPF) Global Innovation Webinar (GIW) Series will play an important role. Working with UNAI/CAMOT and Research Centre of Technological Innovation Centre, Tsinghua University, EICC has been successfully organizing annual Global University President Forum (GUPF) since 2008 and Global Innovation Webinar (GIW) series since early 2021, which has become global events in addressing global issues in global higher education with global innovation solutions and attracted high-profile speakers, university presidents/vice chancellors, innovators, social and technology entrepreneurs, Politian and investors, etc. as well as global participants. GUPF and GIW would like to have a focus on

  • Promotion of International Technology Transfer and Innovation in Africa

  • Promotion of Research and Innovation in ITT in Africa

  • Promotion of E-learning – ELITE in Africa

  • Promotion of strategic investment in Africa

We sincerely welcome scholars and researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs who share a great vision for the Rise of Africa with us to join CITTA.

Many thanks for reading this article. If you would like to discuss further or share your thoughts with us, please e-mail me at

[1] China Association for Management of Technology (CAMOT). [2] International Association for Management of Technology (IAMOT).

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