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Book Review: Innovation – Shaping South Africa through Science

Author:  Sarah Wild (2015).

Format and Publisher:  Paperback – 194 Pages.  Published by Pan Macmillan South Africa (2015).

Review:  © Wayne Mallinson (21 March 2016) at

Book Innovation Author Sarah Wild

An Inside View of Innovation

Sarah Wild provides an inside view on thirty innovation projects in South Africa.  These span five important sectors in South Africa:  Environment, Energy, Health, Industry and Education.  The common thread through the case studies is the role of science in innovation.  Sarah wisely takes a step backwards to explain that invention proceeds innovation, and that “innovation occurs when a new product or process is used …”

How Innovation Gains Traction

Most cases of successful innovation that catch our attention have a commercial bias.  Revenues then provide the cash flow with which to tweak and rapidly improve the innovation.    Customer critique, suggestions and further commercialisation insights, drive a range of further improvement and expansion responses which can be, and often must be, funded with the revenues.   News of the innovation and users of the innovation help the success to spread.

How Invention Alone Can Lose Traction and Defer South Africa’s Dreams

Many of the cases dealt with in the book don’t appear to have the mechanisms to capture this commercialisation advantage.  This in turn appears to leave the inventors, teams, organisations and the country with less gain from innovation, than might otherwise have been possible.  I believe that more attention must therefore be put into converting these breakthrough inventions to successful and runaway-successful innovations.  It is only by doing this that we can realistically meet the National System of Innovation’s (NSI’s) aspirations for “Innovation to extend beyond commercial and economic indicators to impact on local community development, the poor, and sustainable futures”.  There is a chain of effect.  Any broken link will halt progress.

Hat’s-Off to the Institutions, Investors, Inventors Showcased by Sarah

Each person, each rand, each positive policy, and each hour of effort or thread of thought to discover and create something new deserves deep respect.  Sarah has done a wonderful job of getting inside each situation – literally getting inside the teams, and the drama, going to the places where innovation is being forged and admirably sharing sometimes very complex science in a way that everyone can understand it.  Wild’s workload has led her to recount stories involving the Council for Industrial Research (CSIR), South African National Space Agency (SANSA),  Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Rhodes, Cape Town Universities, University of Witwatersrand, University of South Africa, University of Kwazulu-Natal, North West University, Central University of Technology, Agricultural Research Council, South African Weather Service, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Statistics South Africa, Eskom, UVIRCO, Sustainability Institute, NECSA, National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Fruitfly Africa, National Health Laboratory Services, Ithembalabs,  Transnet, Institute for Maritime Technology, Mintek, and the Departments of Science and Technology, Basic Education, Arts and Culture.  Given that Sarah Wild has interviewed many individual inventors and innovators from this pool of pioneers, and other companies and organisations too numerous to list, she deserves a medal for sheer physical and mental stamina but another one especially for creating such an interesting and readable collection.


For me, the strength of the book, was to be taken on a personal guided tour around the country and to be personally introduced to the inventors, their inventions and sharing their struggles, joys, disappointments and celebrations on the way.   No,  I did not actually travel with her.  It just felt like I was included in all that she discovered.

Of particular interest to me were the cases dealing with Titanium and altering Laser beam shapes.  But all the other cases were definitely worth the read, and in fact a re-read.  Anybody wanting to get to grips with the work of invention and innovation will benefit from how the heroes in these cases – and they are all heroes – have approached their diverse areas and challenges.

A Gripping Account with Tension

The book has left a certain tension and some frustration within me.  The tension I have is that the stories are still ongoing.  I would have liked to have read, “…and they lived happily ever after”, but for many the certainty of their breakthrough is not yet attained.  Some are stupendously close to success.   Others have made huge strides, but have been exhausted by their efforts and the rewards still elude them.  The frustration is… I feel I can speed some to success given the chance! (Give me a call) J

Wayne Mallinson

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