Some young innovators that displayed their work at the recent Harare Agricultural Society
The Zimbabwean government is in the finals stages of setting up the structures for the multi-million ICT innovation fund and will begin the implementation of this pool by the end of September 2016.
This fund was mentioned earlier this year by the Minister of ICT Supa Mandiwanzira when he highlighted some of the government’s efforts in supporting the growth of ICT in the country and the development of local ICT solutions.
The fund which is handled by the telecoms regulator POTRAZ is set to be capitalised to $25 million through the contributions of 1.5% of revenues from the local telecoms operators.
According to sources from POTRAZ, the disbursement will be carried out in phases and the first phase will be preceded by a call for applications from innovators that have solutions and projects that require financial support.
Structures are being put in place to ensure that the capital is disbursed to deserving ICT innovators that meet specific conditions and are considered as being eligible for support from the Innovation fund.
These structures will include an adjudication process that will be used to select viable tech innovations.
What about transparency and mismanagement issues?
It’s good to know that there’s serious work being done on the launch of the Innovation Fund and the entire ecosystem will likely be excited about the major investment being made in local innovation that ordinarily struggles to secure support elsewhere.
At the same time, it’s still hard to view any capital disbursement drive under the government’s purview without a lot of skepticism. There have been other well-intentioned funds set up in the past like the Youth Fund and these were overrun by corruption and high loan default rates.
The last time we talked about this fund we’d said,
Will the government be willing to back apps that are yet to clearly define their business model and are facing enormous challenges from existing market leaders and household name tech brands? Will there be a system for monitoring the progress made after funds are disbursed?
Hopefully, before would be entrepreneurs line up to get State investment in their ideas, the government will have familiarised itself with the dynamics at hand. The last thing the country and the tech ecosystem needs is another round of aspiring entrepreneurs raiding a fund only to default on loans while creating a bad name for youth empowerment.
That skepticism hasn’t dissipated. It still remains to be seen how this fund will be handled differently, something we all would like to be the case since this could be the game changer for Zimbabwean ICT innovation.
According to POTRAZ, there are checks and measures being put in place to ensure that this won’t turn into another misused pool.
In addition to the government’s own monitoring procedures (the fund is under the Ministry of ICT, not POTRAZ, by the way) the operators are going to be closely involved in processes that include monitoring the movement of funds and the selection processes for recipients.
These dynamics should go a long way in adding another level of transparency to the fund, something that will help ensure that deserving innovators benefit from such an important pool of resources.