Driving Rwanda's Development through Digital Innovation in Universities

By Maurice Muhiza Rwamigabo

July 27, 2023

University of Rwanda's College of Science and Technology where the hub of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship is located.

UNDP Rwanda

Do Rwandan universities cultivate or kill creativity? Can they train the workforce of today, much less tomorrow? Amidst this ongoing debate it becomes increasingly crucial for Rwanda's universities to enhance their effectiveness and contribution to the country's development. By embracing innovative teaching methods, fostering collaboration between academia, government, and industry, and ensuring the quality and relevance of education, these institutions can truly become engines of digital innovation for the nation's economy.

In 2013, the Government of Rwanda took a significant step by merging seven public higher education institutions into the University of Rwanda. This merger aimed to improve the quality and relevance of higher education, boost research output, and eliminate resource duplication. In addition, Rwanda has made notable progress in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives aligned with its education sector strategic plan. The government has heavily invested in STEM programs and established various initiatives to support innovation and entrepreneurship in universities.

The establishment of Kigali Innovation City (KIC) stands as a prominent example of Rwanda's commitment to becoming a Pan-African hub for technology and innovation. This 61.9-hectare development integrates universities (Carnegie Mellon University-Africa and the African Leadership University), offices, residential housing, retail facilities, and a hotel in an environmentally conscious manner. 

Recognizing the critical role of universities in driving digital innovation, the Ministry of ICT and Innovation in Rwanda and UNDP Rwanda have partnered to transform the University of Rwanda's College of Science and Technology into a hub of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. UNDP has invested over $1.1 million to create an inclusive makerspace facility, offering tools, equipment, co-creation space, and training. 

Inside the hub of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

Additionally, universities in Rwanda have established dedicated innovation and entrepreneurship centers, such as theGIIH Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Rwanda College of Science and Technology and the Industry Innovation Lab at CMU-Africa

Despite such positive developments, challenges persist in promoting innovation in Rwandan universities, and much more remains to be done. Limited funding, personnel, physical space, commercialization opportunities, intellectual property rights, and industry-academic partnerships are areas that require attention.

Examples from other countries, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Makerspace, South Africa's Innovation Hub, France's TechShop-Lille, and the global FabLab network, showcase the power of makerspaces and innovation spaces in fostering entrepreneurship and sustainable digital innovations.

Leading universities like Stanford, MIT, and KTH can also serve as models for Rwandan universities. Stanford's approach encourages risk-taking and sees failure as a valuable learning experience. Blending MIT's focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and commercialization with KTH's emphasis on co-creation, sustainability, and societal impact could yield an effective innovation and entrepreneurship approach.

Innovation in universities is vital for addressing society's challenges, creating opportunities, driving economic growth, and fostering new industries. A collaborative approach among academia, civil society, government, and the private sector, along with increased investment in universities, will unlock their potential as transformative spaces.

Maurice Muhiza Rwamigabo leads the Accelerator Lab at UNDP Rwanda. An expert on ICT matters, empowering businesses, and inspiring startups to embrace the power of technology and innovation to harness their full potential, while unlocking new pathways for sustainable growth.