Public Entrepreneurship: Creating Value at Government Institutions to Build Innovation Ecosystem

June 1, 2022

Like many people, Dr Jelalu Mustaf, team leader at Ethiopian Textile Industry Development Institute saw entrepreneurship as specific to the private sector. He was unfamiliar with the concept of public entrepreneurship and value creation as a public organization. While he saw himself and his job at the institute as innovative, translating that into a value proposition for the public was not straightforward until he participated in the training program developed by UNDP’s Innovation for Development project.

We cannot talk about building an innovation ecosystem without touching on the role of government as either a facilitator or a hands-on guide in setting the stage and building the infrastructure for entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystems.

The government and its institutions need to be innovative as they build inter-governmental coordination, provide market-driven value to the public and take risks of innovations that the private sector can’t. Policies geared towards innovation building should be based on an understanding of the needs of the ecosystem and design strategies that are responsive.

Therefore, leaders and technical experts at government institutions need to build their capacity to create value to incentivize and support innovation.

" If we see ourselves as experts in our fields but the ecosystem is still in the beginning stage, where is the disconnect since we are the ecosystem” Genet Zewde Researcher at Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute"

The solution 

In Ethiopia, the Ministry of Innovation and Technology leads the government effort to promote the innovation ecosystem. With the support from KOCIA and FCDO, we collaborated with the ministry to provide capacity development for government institutions working in science and technology to be better positoned at championing and developing responsive policy around entrepreneurship and innovation.  

The training designed in partnership with the Entrepreneurship Development Institutions focused on government innovation actors to first understand how they can create value within their organizations through public entrepreneurship. The exercise tools helped participants understand, design and manage innovation ecosystem building strategies. In the past year, there have been seven rounds of training that have reached over 300 government staff. 

The training has been very well received, and changed the minds of those who had been sceptical, like Dr Jelal. We had trainees lobby their senior management to extend the training to the institutional level, even to the level of regional government presidents. The technical teams went back to their institution and proactively created work plans based on what they learned and gotten approvals from their Head of Agency to put them into action.

What made it successful 

The fame of this program has reached well beyond the reach of the ministry and affiliated institutions to the Ethiopian Tourism Organization and Addis Ababa City Education office looking to adopt the training program on value creation for their sector. The training program was successful because of the following reasons:

  • Market Driven: A need assessment of sample organizations was conducted to identify needs both at the organizational level and what they need in the context of ecosystem building. It was also important to capture their roles in championing market-driven design from the ministry’s side. The modules were designed in consultation with MinT and respond to where the organization are currently. 
  • The trainers: Having an institution like the Entrepreneurship Development Institute, which has been working in Ethiopia for the past nine years and has homegrown talent was important. The trainers understood the local context of the ecosystem and were key to designing a responsive program. They were able to relate to the trainees and share their experiences with the private sector with valuable case studies and examples. 

Methodology: Innovation is not a theory but a practice, so making the training as interactive as possible and focused on the public sector was crucial. Building in multiple opportunities to exercise on the job tools gave the trainees the practice they needed to be confident in implementing what they have learned in the real world. Genet Zewdie, a researcher at Ethiopia’s Biotechnology Institute, expressed, “We can see how to apply the training in our jobs fairly easily, and it brought a mindset change for me on the value and meaning of entrepreneurship”.

Design Framework: The program is framed in two parts; first is to improve organizational innovation capabilities internally to drive value creation at an institutional level. Second, it looks at how to take these capacities to create an active role in the ecosystem. By connecting organizational capacity with the ecosystem, the training drove home the need for collaboration and coordination commonly lacking in Ethiopia’s ecosystem. 

What is next?

The progress made so far in developing the government institution’s capacity has been very successful, but we need a sustainable model that can make this training accessible to a larger audience and leave a lasting impact within these institutions.  We will be continuing to provide additional trainings for the rest of the year, but the longer-term plan is to: 

  • First and for most do on the job follow up with trainees both on the organizational and ecosystem level to understand the long-term impact of the program and build local case studies on innovation. This will allow for a better understanding on what it would take to shift mindsets and design supplemental trainings as refreshers to the initial courses.
  • Secondly it would be to turn the organization dimensions of the program into corporate innovation initiative for government institutions in collaboration with external contributors. We hope to pilot the initiative with a few institutions that can share best practices.
  • Lastly, we want to develop knowledge products and learning tools that can be shared with in the larger ecosystem on what we have learned, what the institutions have done and what it would take to expand this work nationwide.

While this is an exciting beginning, changing the ecosystem is not somethings we can or want to do on our own, so we are looking for partners to help us realize these goals in the coming years and expand the impact in the innovation ecosystem by collaborating. We welcome your feedback and collaboration.

(Written by Wudasse Berhanu, Project manager Innovation for Development)