Top South African scientist: How to make an impact with innovation

As CEO of the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR), a South African government-created entity, Dr. Thulani Dlamini is in the innovation business, with the goal of supporting industry and technology.

thulani dlamini
Thulani Dlamini

The Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR), South Africa's central and premier scientific research and development organisation, was created by the government with a very clear mandate — to foster scientific and industrial progress via research, development and innovation. As CEO of the CSIR, Dr. Thulani Dlamini is at the helm of an organisation expected to perform directed research and technological innovation that creates a clear and tangible impact.

What is that impact?

We recently chatted to Dr Dlamini to find out. We also spoke to him about the CSIR's innovation efforts — which include the development of a local ventilator to aid the South African government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic — and his views on the so-called fourth industrial revolution (4IR): the convergence of emerging technologies include machine learning and 5G.

Let's talk about your current position as CEO of the CSIR, what does it take to lead SA's premier scientific and research organisations? Any key challenges?

I really see myself as being very fortunate to lead an organisation of this stature, with the history it has and the impact it has made across South Africa. I'm very mindful that I need to protect the reputation of the CSIR and also that I need to grow and develop this institution into something better than what it was yesterday. As innovators, we can't just keep doing what we did in the past, we always need to be evolving and responding to change. In fact, our new strategy aims to build from our previous successes. This means that we're working to develop our science and engineering capabilities so that we can support and drive industrial development in the country. Unlike universities and other academic institutions that also do research and development, our work has to be directed and it needs to have a real, marked impact across society, industry and government. As such, anything we do is driven by a requirement that we make a clear mark on broader society and have an impact on industrial development.

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