Triple helix approach to sustained socio-economic development in Africa- By Yaw Adu-Gyamfi

The new economy is about speed, quality, flexibility, innovation, networks, and building critical mass. Clustering is particularly important in supporting competitiveness of old and emerging industries with a potential for growth. Clustering can be defined as a process that drives firms and other actors within triple helix collaboration towards a common goal and establish new constellations, relations, and strategic alliances. Such an approach tends to reduce cost and create new value for and with each other all to improve the innovativeness and long –term competitiveness.

Across the African continent, the Pan-African Competitiveness Forum seeks to bring together professionals in Government, Private Sector, Academia, Civil Society sectors and Development Partners to engage in cluster based business competitiveness initiatives and holds an annual conference from alternating venues across Africa affording a platform to network and explore business and partnership opportunities. For a cluster to be competitive, a cluster initiative consisting of all the companies and organizations that are linked together in collaboration or competition in value creation need to be aligned towards a common vision that harnesses the skills, efforts and commitment of its firms or members. Clustering further provides the opportunity for people most motivated to address society’s greatest challenges realizing that self-organization and civic action are the foundation of society. People directly experiencing a need have the most intimate understanding of it, and are most able to drive the process towards meeting challenges.

Research into development interventions over many years has repeatedly shown that support of itself driven change is more effective than the delivery of externally initiated, expert driven solutions. Around every issue and need, there are local movers and shakers who are prepared to invest enormously in pursuing the issues they feel passionately about. The creation of a platform for collaboration of key sectors of society—academia, government and the private sector, encourages socio-economic development through harnessing of resources and expertise. Business and government, who in practice end up controlling societal resources, have a fundamental decision to make. Innovative policies create the enabling environment for businesses and the economy to thrive, businesses take advantage to drive growth, boost employment, and increase incomes. Academia on the other hand shares innovative ideas and research needed to enhance governance and support business growth. Hence, collaboration among the three either at the local or national level combines good policies and incentives, with investment and business entrepreneurship as well as making use of vital research and innovation from academia, seeking to transform economies across Africa that have mainly remained as Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises-MSME’s.

In Ghana and most parts of Africa, government policies do not address the challenging socio-economic issues critically; innovation from academia is locked up in the four walls of the numerous research institutions and universities while the private sector long upheld as the engine of growth remains at best just a saying. It is with this reason that the Pan-African Competitiveness Forum –PACF utilizes a triple helix approach as a conscious attempt to organize key actors in a cluster by engaging Government, Academia, and the Private Sector. The triple helix configuration for collective action in the development of clusters could be seen as an innovation in development dynamics. It must be noted that sometimes the government may include the national and local but most importantly the local government. Likewise the academia may be national or local research or training or vocational or extension service institution.

During a PACF conference in February 2-4, 2011, I had the opportunity to visit the Makerere University after presenting a paper on “Skills Development to propel Growth at Suame Magazine: A Triple Helix Approach to Ensure Sustainability”. The University situated in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, was the cynosure of all yes when the PACF’s triple helix approach was put into practice. Researchers from the University had through collaboration with government and the private sector foundation, implemented a number of projects including, high yield fruit and crop varieties, packaging technologies and toothpicks imported hugely in Ghana and other African countries, all of them commercialized through active private sector participation. Simple technology harnessed in the production of these and other products were on display. The front and backward feedback for the collaborative entities helps in vital information sharing to reduce the cost of doing business and in the long term address critical socio-economic challenges.

An initiative in Uganda, which has similarity with most countries in Africa south of the Sahara, is the focus on agriculture as it employs the majority of Ugandans. There, the emphasis has been the financing and adoption of irrigation technologies by government and the use of market research, and modern farming techniques by famers developed by the academia. By this, the traditional hardship associated with waiting for the rains before farming is eliminated, while vital information is made available to improve farm yield and encourage famers to increase production through the provision of appropriate incentives. In places like Cape Town, South Africa, the government plays a key role by collaborating with academia to identify potential areas of the economy for clustering and fostering new initiatives. The academia convinces the government to build the capacity of clusters through training and guidance for the clusters to achieve competitiveness.
However, for a cluster to be competitive, a cluster initiative consisting of all the collaborating partners that are linked together in collaboration or competition in value creation need to be aligned towards a common vision that harnesses the skills, efforts and commitment of its firms or members. Clustering and the use of the triple helix approach to sustainable socio-economic development has the potential to transform economies across Africa through shared best practices. More on the Pan-African Competitiveness Forum-PACF and the triple helix approach can be found at

Yaw Adu-Gyamfi—is a consultant on Governance and Sustainable Development and Director at Kumasi Center for Life-Long Learning. This Article is syndicated by