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HP Engineers a Megacommunity

2. Shared Leadership. Find partner organizations in which at least one individual leader shares your passion and can commit the organization, at least in name, to the cause. For many weeks, Engineering Africa existed only as a set of PowerPoint slides and conversations. The idea slowly gathered momentum in the U.S. and in Africa as Lloyd and I talked about it with others. Momentum accelerated when I shared the vision with Russ Jones, who suggested that HP and WFEO collaborate, and lead the effort together with WFEO as our public face. This approach offered several advantages. First, it was easier for other companies to join an effort not labeled “HP.” Second, as in the rest of the world, so in Africa: Engineering academics prefer to join an effort championed by engineering educators and professionals over one driven by corporations, no matter how well-intentioned those companies may be. Finally, WFEO already included representatives from 90 countries, including many in Africa.

Russ invited me to describe the Engineering Africa vision at the WFEO Committee on Capacity Building in South Africa. This committee unanimously and with great enthusiasm endorsed the joint project. (At HP, we like to underpromise and overdeliver. Thus, I found myself becoming a bit nervous about our enthusiastic reception. Said one African delegate: “This will be the greatest thing that has ever happened in Africa!”)

3. Stakeholders in Conference. Form a core team to plan a small conference that will expand the conversation to include local stakeholders already involved with related efforts and organizations. A core team composed of all the HP stakeholders and Russ set to work to convene a meeting, which was held in Abuja, Nigeria, in March 2007. Through his many networks, Russ invited cosponsors, including the Nigerian Society of Engineers, the African Engineering Education Association, and the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Technology in Africa, as well as key faculty in Nigeria and throughout the continent. HP invited companies based in Nigeria, in Africa and elsewhere globally, as well as Nigerian ministers.

The focus of the meeting was building technical capacity for economic development through engineering education in Africa, beginning in Nigeria. The 50 invited participants included engineering educators, industry leaders, government officials, and executives of related nongovernmental organizations, including the World Bank and several local foundations. In speeches, panel discussions, and informal conversations, people explored the industry need for technical workers; the current situation of engineering and engineering education; economic development; and university, industry, and government partnerships.

4. Vision and Inspiration. Articulate the grandest vision you see to inspire, shape, and be shaped by your program. Writing in the Kauffman Foundation’s 2006 ThoughtBook, Wayne Johnson shared an inspiring vision for the world, one that encompasses our work of building economic capacity and making and selling information and communication technologies. Wayne proposed that knowledge supply chains and innovation ecosystems could innately enable global innovation and prosperity. The current state of national and regional innovation systems demonstrates that there is much work to be done.

In developed countries, innovation ecosystems include K–12, university, and postgraduate engineering and science education, and national investments in research and innovation. These ecosystems are running out of steam: They are piecemeal, bureaucratic, and siloed (limited to a single sector’s capabilities). In developing countries, innovation systems are opportunistic and fragmented. Everywhere in the world, these systems are failing to realize their potential. Wayne suggests that as an alternative, we could build multi-stakeholder national and regional innovation ecosystems or megacommunities that would develop into a global innovation ecosystem.

5. Informal Collaboration. Learn other sectors’ ways of operating. Globalization has created unprecedented complexity: The density of cross-sector relationships has increased exponentially, to the point that the old and more formal methods of multisector collaboration, characterized by hierarchy and contracts, have broken down. Concurrently, issues facing each sector are now so intricate and interconnected with other sectors that siloed approaches are grossly inadequate. In place of formal structures and agreements to resolve issues to the benefit of each stakeholder (an approach that on most complex problems only exacerbates the problems), informal networks and collaborations have emerged to best benefit the network and indirectly improve the odds for each stakeholder.

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  1. Mark Gerencser, Fernando Napolitano, and Reginald Van Lee, “The Megacommunity Manifesto,” s+b, Summer 2006: Public, private, and civil leaders should confront together the problems that none can solve alone. Click here.
  2. Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huyer, eds., Cinderella or Cyberella: Empowering Women in the Knowledge Society (Kumarian Press, 2006): Makes a case for creating multi-stakeholder initiatives, including government, industry, and the civil sector, for establishing more capable women professionals. Click here.
  3. Douglas Himberger, David Sulek, and Stephen Krill Jr., “When There Is No Cavalry,” s+b, Autumn 2007: No single authority can prepare for or respond to major disasters as effectively as a megacommunity can. Click here.
  4. Chris Kelly, Mark Gerencser, Fernando Napolitano, and Reginald Van Lee, “The Defining Features of a Megacommunity,” s+b Leading Idea, 6/12/07: A primer for creating successful multipartite initiatives to solve critical problems that embraces the talents of government, business, and civil society. Click here.
  5. Romain Murenzi and Mike Hughes, “Building a Prosperous Global Knowledge Economy in Africa: Rwanda as a Case Study,” International Journal of Technology and Globalisation, 2006, vol. 2, nos. 3–4: Demonstrates how knowledge capital can make all the difference in an emerging economy. Click here. (Subscription required.)
  6. Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future (National Academies Press, 2007): Source on technological change as an economic growth driver. Click here.
  7. Barbara Waugh, The Soul in the Computer: The Story of a Corporate Revolutionary (with Margot Silk Forrest; Inner Ocean, 2001): How the personal and professional methods of organizational change can come together in one individual’s story. Click here.
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