SITA searches for socially-conscious innovation

SITA CEO Setumo Mohapi.
SITA CEO Setumo Mohapi.

The State IT Agency (SITA) today introduced the National Development Plan (NDP) hackathon as part of the agency's mission to leverage ICT to solve socio-economic issues.

Unveiled in 2012, the NDP is a government roadmap for how the country aims to eliminate poverty, reduce inequality and grow an inclusive economy by the year 2030. It aims to raise resources needed to support social and economic transformation in the country.

Speaking at the launch of SITA's NDP2030 hackathon in Pretoria this morning, CEO Setumo Mohapi highlighted the importance of leveraging technology to solve problems identified around the government action plan.

We need to be more ambitious about how technology can be used to do work within public service, stressed Mohapi.

He explained that over the years, SITA was unable to give young people tools to participate and solve problems using technology. The launch of the hackathon, said Mohapi, is aimed opening up such opportunities.

Unlike hackathon events that usually take place over a three-day period, the SITA hackathon initiative is a process and journey, he said. "The journey starts today. It is going to involve more than 1 000 participants made up of young people across the country, public servants and all members of the industry.

"We are asking them to solve problems within the solutions space that has been created by the NDP. We are challenging them on the assumption that they know more about the nature of the country's problems and we are going to give them the time and space to develop solutions for these issues."

Applications for the hackathon opened today and will close on 31 July. Once the applications have been submitted, according to Mohapi, SITA will go through an elimination process that will see participants cut down to 200, which will be further brought down to 20. The government agency will thereafter go into the technical and business solution development process as part of the hackthon.

The hackathon is expected to conclude in November.

He continued: "We are looking to harness the innovation talent that is there, and not only harness but also to grow it. We are looking for a different type of innovation, energetic innovation, and that is why we are framing this thing around a hackathon.

"We are looking for innovation that is socially-conscious. We want innovation that focuses on value and impact; solutions must be located within the broader NDP of the country."

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, deputy minister in the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Service, pointed out the NDP cannot dwell on solutions of the 20th century; rather it has to be implemented with the knowledge and skills of the 21st century.

"We must be able to provide solutions that will be relevant in 2030. This, therefore, talks to the policies and regulation that we as government develop and put in place must not hold the industry back to the innovations that are out there."

She added: "Everybody must have an opportunity to present his or her story for the hackathon. We are giving communities an opportunity to provide solutions to the way they want to see SA becoming and government working."

Transformed state-entity

Mohapi said the context under which SITA is driving the hackathon is based on its mandate and transformation process.

The government agency has been upfront about the challenges it has been confronted with, which have created a perception that it is irrelevant.

Explaining the importance of the hackathon, the CEO said SITA's transformation is an existential one and the agency is in the process of redefining its mandate to remain relevant. According to Mohapi, SITA was created for a reason and that reason is as valid now as it was then.

"This is an important initiative because it is not just a driving transformation of SITA but this is the first time that we are doing an initiative other than the industry days that we have carried out. It is the first time where we are saying to the industry: let us change the ecosystem together."

He adds: "We know that the ecosystem is not just about the existing companies that are out there. The companies that exist today probably did not exist 15 years ago, so we must create an opportunity for the creation of companies of the future.

"When you have an ecosystem looking in different directions and you want to change it...you look for an existing beacon. It is not often that societies generate common beacons that entire communities can look up to; the NDP is that beacon for SA. When it came out in 2012, almost everyone rallied around and said I can locate my future in that plan. That is why we have shaped the hackathon around the NDP plan," he concluded.

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