DST/NRF/Newton Fund Trilateral Research Chair in Transformative Innovation and Sustainable Development

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Welcome to the DST/NRF/Newton Fund Trilateral Research Chair in Transformative Innovation, the 4th Industrial Revolution and Sustainable Development
Funded by the South African National Research Foundation and the British Council through the Newton Fund, the Trilateral Chair is a research collaboration between the University of Johannesburg, the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) in Nairobi and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex in the UK. The program builds on the expertise of three partners to strengthen African scholarship for examining transformative innovation and its policy dimensions, in the context of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and efforts to achieve sustainable development.


The 4IR has taken center-stage in academic and policy debates due to its potential to transform economies and societies across the world. Rapid technological advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, biotechnology and others are likely to have considerable impacts in our production, consumption and social systems. While acknowledging that the magnitude of change is likely to be unprecedented, the direction of such change remains uncertain. There is an increasing realization that, if the direction of change is not carefully steered, the 4IR will exacerbate existing social challenges. A commonly identified risk is that 4IR technologies could leave millions of people across the world without jobs, intensifying income inequalities. In this respect, the challenges faced by African countries are considered greater than those faced by technologically advanced countries.
Klaus Schwab, who invented and pushed the concept through the World Economic Forum, listed 23 shifts comprising the 4IR. Although these shifts identify areas of disruption, they offer no assessment of the impact on sustainable development, which must incorporate the thorough integration of both social and environment sustainability if we are to achieve the transformation ambitions expressed in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).            

Our research program aims to:

  • Develop and test new theoretical frameworks to understand transformation, in the context of the 4IR and from an African perspective, by unpacking the social
    and technological relationships that explain the rate, direction and patterns of (radical) innovation adoption, diffusion and use.                
  • Gather new evidence in four areas: transformation of energy systems, mobile money, agricultural biotech and industrial production systems.
  • Explore how to influence transformative change through public policy, by developing new policy frameworks and exploring possibilities for policy experimentation in collaboration with the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC).



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