What We Can Learn From Rural Innovators Like Ludwick Marishane

Updated on 26 April 2017

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By: Kealeboga Mokolobate

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has said that it will be making a sizeable investment in unearthing rural innovators as part of its Grassroots Innovation Programme through the Technology Localisation Implementation Unit (TLIU). To do this they will be travelling the country looking for rural innovators who are helping to transform their communities with their work.

These talented individuals will receive mentorship and opportunities to scale up their work and start their own businesses.

They are in essence looking for grassroots innovators, who are coming up with innovative solutions without necessarily having any formal training.

TLIU’s Manager, Ashley Bhugwandin told Fin24 that their unit was looking to lend such initiatives commercial support.

“So often great innovation is created out of necessity – our objective is to turn this innovation into a tangible business – so that instead of merely solving a problem. There is an economic benefit; jobs are created and communities are transformed from the inside,” he said.

Untapped Talent

Although rural South Africa is marred with poverty and lack of access to resources, it has still managed to produce great talent.

Individuals like Siya Xuza, now a Harvard University graduate, who learnt how to build rockets in his rural Eastern Cape home. Xuza now recounts how he used encyclopedias to find information on how to formulate rocket-fuel.

And Ludwick Marishane, founder of Headboy Industries who invented a product called Drybath Gel, a proprietary formulation of gel that cleans the skin when applied, useful for when water, privacy, and/or time make taking a bath not possible. Ludwick filed his provisional-patent age 17 making him South Africa’s youngest patent-filer.

Ludwick grew up with limited access to computers in rural Motetema, Mpumalanga. He relied on a cell phone to research his formulations and to type his 8000-word business plan. He is a shining example of the untapped talent found in rural areas.

Ludwick, although grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the TIA had this to say about the need to also recognise and develop ‘low-tech’ that does not require highly advanced or specialized systems or devices.

“Having worked at the Technology Innovation Agency with the innovation skills development team, we tackled some interesting challenges related to technology-commercialization. My biggest frustration was that TIA focused on “high-tech” scaling, and there didn’t seem to be a support structure for “low-tech” commercialization.”

He had this to say about the need to also simultaneously help innovators develop their entrepreneurship skills: “The success of the initiative will hinge on the innovators’ commitment to learning how to adapt their skills to aid their innovations; and on the TLIU team’s ability to transfer entrepreneurial skills to the innovators, and identify innovators that already evidence the entrepreneurial attitude necessary to achieve the desired outcomes.”

Changing Communities

As an Enterprise and Supplier Development practitioner some of my most fulfilling work in ESD has been in working with youth entrepreneurs, especially from the country’s poorer areas.

There is no denying that being a township or rural-based entrepreneur is markedly different from being an entrepreneur working in a metropolitan area. There are fewer examples of entrepreneurial success coming from the townships and rural areas areas, and many of the businesses that do exist in those areas are survivalist.

Many could argue that the lack of resources in township and rural settings hinders the production of talent and that the high unemployment rate necessitates a need to work with skilled people.

However, examples such as Ludwick and Siya show the importance of doing both. It is these young innovators and others that have the potential to create jobs and to make their communities’ lives easier.

About the author: Kealeboga Mokolobate is Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) Account Manager at Lean Enterprise Acceleration Programmes (Leap). Mokolobate is also the founder of A-Plus Learning, an on campus tutoring startup offering academic support services for students. 

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