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, the programme is an international 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 United Kingdom. The programme 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 Trilateral Chair started operating in July 2019.

The core team is formed by:

Prof. Erika Kraemer-Mbula: Professor of Economics at the University of Johannesburg and Chairholder. Her work focuses on alternative development paths for African economies. She specialises in the analysis of innovation systems in connection to equitable development and inclusive development, and has done pioneering work on informal sector innovation and innovation. Trained as an Economist, she holds a Masters in Science and Technology Policy by the Science and Policy Research Unit (University of Sussex), and a doctorate in Development Studies from the University of Oxford.  

Dr Robert Byrne: Senior Lecturer at SPRU, University of Sussex. He holds a PhD in Science and Technology Policy Studies from SPRU. His research focuses on sustainable energy access challenges and science, technology and innovation policy in sub-Saharan Africa. Rob co-convenes the energy and climate change work of the STEPS Centre (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability), and he is a member of the Sussex Energy Group and Climate Strategies. He also sits on the Management Board of the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network, and he contributes to the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium Working Group.

Dr Ann Kingiri: Senior Research Fellow at ACTS, pursuing policy-oriented research in STI, agriculture, bioenergy, including climate change and gender as cross-cutting themes. She has a PhD in Development Studies from the UK for which her focus was new biosciences policy. She is the Secretary and has a leading role in Africalics, a research network in Innovation and Development studies through which hundreds of African PhD students are trained every year in PhD academies around the continent.


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 realisation that, if the direction of change is not carefully steered, the 4IR will exacerbate existing social challenges. In this respect, the challenges faced by African countries are considered greater than those faced by technologically advanced countries.


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 specific thematic areas, such as 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.



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