Background and Rationale

For thousands of years, the people of Tigrai have played an important role and made a critical contribution to the Ethiopian mosaic of architecture, commerce, culture (such as heritage, music, religion, art etc.), economy, education, governance, heroism, linguistics, literature, military, patriotism, philosophy, politics as well as in safeguarding the territorial integrity of the country against foreign invasion. This was done against all odds that were imposed from internal and external forces. However, regardless all these priceless values, the region has been excluded from any kind of state-run development agendas for the past many decades. Building on the above mentioned historical successes and the region’s comparative advantage, the natural question is what is next for Tigrai in an ever-changing national and global realities of dynamism? What would be required for a fast-paced inclusive and sustainable development of Tigrai and its people?

Success stories from different parts of the world in terms of innovative and sustainable ways of advancing the economic growth of countries and regions are often related to the implementation of an effectively working quad-helix relationship among academia, industry (both private and non-private sectors), the government (public sector), and civil society organizations (CSOs), hereinafter-described as sectors, addressing the principles of Public-Private Partnership (PPP or 3P). The cumulative integrity of all the sectors result in innovation, which in turn serve as an important element in acquiring knowledge, in enhancing the sustainable and a potent economic growth, global completive power, and social welfare. The quad-helix model works best when each one of the four sectors mutually interact and play its role in the best way possible considering the needs of the other three thereby, cross-fertilizing the overall work they do in the creation and practical application of knowledge in an innovative environment. Subscribing to the quad-helix model, not being limited to, provides a framework to structure the contributions of the main actors in the society in enabling the research and practice motor for the sustainable development of a country or a region. The model represents on how to develop quadrilateral relations that can work together in enhancing synergetic functions of knowledge creation (e.g. via producing value added technologies), dissemination (e.g. transfer of research outputs from university to industry, practical knowledge from industry to university etc.) and utilization thereby benefiting all the four sectors and beyond. For instance, it will help universities in Tigrai to lead an enhanced innovation and contribute to the creation of knowledge-based society and thereby a prosperous and climate-resilient green economy. Such transformation requires a well-functioning interaction among the four helices (four pillars of development) to unleash regional and national economic growth through scientific and technological innovations.

The quad-helix visualizes a collective and mutual exchange of knowledge in a given nation and/or region by the synergetic action of the sub-systems (i.e. helices), such as via government-university (e.g. research grant), university-business (e.g. incubator), government-business (e.g. business start-up grants) etc. The role of the helices in a knowledge-based economy and society is multiplex and is shortly presented as follows.

Academia: This refers to higher institutions (universities) and is considered as the source of highly effective and skilled human capital (for example: teachers, scientists/researchers, academic entrepreneurs etc.) who serve as inputs to the remaining three parties (sectors) and beyond. It serves as a center for Research & Development (R & D), education, supplying technical products and services, knowledge transfer, set up spin-off enterprises etc.

Industry: Industries take the lead in product and service development, providing smart solutions, platforms, know-how, and focus on the economic capital such as entrepreneurship venturing, machines, products, technology, money etc.

Government: This component of the helices is attributed for overseeing the contractual relationships capable of guaranteeing interactions and stable relationships of exchange with universities, civil society organizations, and economic sectors (industries, firms, etc.) engaged in producing new knowledge and technological innovation. It is of crucial importance because it formulates the ‘will and strategic vision’, where the country or region is heading towards the future. It is also responsible for defining, organizing as well as administering the general conditions of the country/region, as well as ‘political and legal capitals’ (for example: ideas, laws, plans, policies, politicians, etc.).

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs): This component of the quad-helix serves as a bridge between the society and the state, as an increasingly important agent for promoting good governance like transparency, effectiveness, openness, responsiveness and accountability. It combines different forms of capitals, namely culture-based public (social capital) enlisting assets such as tradition, values, etc., media-based public (for example: television, internet, newspapers, etc.) containing ‘capital of information’ (for example: news, communication, social networks) and civil societies. Media helps to enhance the diffusion of knowledge created, to share experiences and skills, and ultimately playing a vital role in helping to bring sustainable socio-economic and environmental development in the region and beyond. The civil society plays an important role in the co-production of public services, building social capital, and assuring digital inclusion, society initiatives, demands for goods and services etc.

The natural resource management (environment) is considered as crucial basis for sustainable development and provides a nation or region with a ‘natural capital’ and essence of sustainability. This component which will be taken care of by all the four sectors of the helix is as equally important as the other components for emerging economies like Ethiopia, where polices are strategically designed to include the climate-resilient green economy concepts.

The evolution in the mutual interaction and synergistic cooperation of the above-mentioned four helices result in a sustainable, climate resilient green and knowledge-driven economy backed by the introduction of innovation-inspired concepts such as science parks, techno polis, and at a more advanced stages to innopolis (smart cities with exceptionally comfortable conditions for living, working and high level of social services with advanced infrastructure, advanced business concepts, and are hubs for high-tech technologies).

As we are still at the beginning of an agricultural development led industrialization or industrial- led development, a well-developed quad-helix relationship provides a fertile ground of sustainable formation and growth of companies that will play a critical role in job creation and value generation that directly and/or indirectly support expansion of investment on infrastructure because of increased government revenues from taxes. Identifying bridging entities that connect the four helices and creating and maintaining meaningful interaction among them is crucial. A successful quad-helix relationship that aims at creating a regional innovation system serves as an effective vehicle for the transfer and diffusion of knowledge and technology in the region’s context with the lenses of the federal and global perspectives. There are two well recognized building blocks in a regional innovation system: a system of generation and diffusion of knowledge and a system of application and exploitation of knowledge.

The shorthand name of the conference, Quo Vadis Tigrai (“ትግራይ ናበይ?”), could be interpreted as ‘Where is Tigrai heading to?’ or more conveniently ‘Where do we want Tigrai to be?’. The concise term is used to connect the journey that the region has gone thus far with its future one. It aims at using the past and present as a springboard for the future with more focus on highlighting the challenges and opportunities to come and setting an effective working interaction between the four sectors through effective research and education as a hub for meaningful collaboration to achieve what we want, i.e. environmentally sound, fast, sustainable and science/technology/innovation assisted all-rounded growth. The regional government can play a more effective role in facilitating research and innovation, education, development and services in tandem with some level of support from the private sector. The universities should excel in innovative research and education in areas that leverage on the natural and human potentials of the region, giving it a more focused competitive edge. Policies and incentives should be developed to help both the private and the public sectors and to some extent civil societies prey on the results of research and education for pulling the people out of poverty and placing the economy on a sustainable transformative trajectory.

The conference will be used as an orchestrator of exchange of experiences on best practices and state-of-the-art technical as well as institutional success stories from different parts of the world in the context of the realities in Tigrai/Ethiopia.

The outcome of the conference not only will be helpful in supporting the successful implementation of the development goals enshrined in the second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP-II) as well as UN-2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs) at regional level but also serves as an input to the next phases of growth and transformation visions and plans of the country. As Tigrai strives to achieve a science and technology-driven economic development, there is an urgent need to see the role of the universities evolving from performing conventional research and education functions to serving as an innovation-promoting and center of excellence knowledge hubs.

This conference will facilitate the discussion and consensus building around the comparative as well as competitive advantages of Tigrai from the perspective of playing a leading role as a center of knowledge hubs that outpace in terms of development in prioritized and specialized areas such as software engineering, advanced health care, data mining and analysis based on big data; emerging technologies (such as bio-technology, energy, materials science, and nanotechnology), high-tech manufacturing, high-value mechanized agriculture, high standard tourism industry, the Geez advantage and indigenous knowledge, etc. These areas of interest emanate from the pragmatic approach of addressing needs that would be met with what is local and indigenous knowhow on one hand, and other needs that require state-of-the-art and cutting-edge technologies. The quest for leveraging on comparative edges of the region will be realized by more strategic and less prescriptive approach that enables organic developments within the four sectors that independently and interdependently respond to the changing environment both nationally and globally.

Based on insights from experiences of other knowledge hubs elsewhere (for instance: Western and Asian tiger economies), the conference will dwell on how institutional leadership, organizational forms and boundary-spanning roles that meditate among the four sectors can be fostered in the context of Tigrai regional state.

The globally prevailing knowledge-based economy relies more on the intellectual capabilities of the human capacity (capital) than on physical inputs or natural resources, and hence the practical engagement of the intellectual society (scholars) is of paramount importance. One of the reason for the rapidly growing economy of countries like India, China, South Korea, etc. is the development of sound policies, platforms and reforms that enable the full-scale engagement/active involvement their scholars in general, and those in overseas (developed countries) in particular. Hence, this conference will also open several opportunities to practically engage Tegaru and Tigrai origin scholars in the ongoing developmental activities of the Tigrai region and beyond.

The Global Society of Tigraian Scholars (GSTS) will take a leading role as one organizer of the international conference by playing a significant part in the initiation, organization and management of the conference. GSTS as a not-for-profit, non-political and non-religious professional organization focuses on academic, research, technology/knowledge transfer/exchange/, knowledge creation/ diffusion and innovation, industry, knowledge-driven services and related issues. Founded in 2013, GSTS has currently more than 900 scholars in its electronic data-bank and more than 650 of these are of second degree and above academic rank holders, more than 250 with Doctorate/PhD. GSTS through its membership constituting of students, educators, intellectuals, high level technicians etc. strives to empower the scientific, technological, research and academic endeavours of our region and nation by serving as platform for scholars both in Tigrai/Ethiopia and those in abroad. Majority of these scholars are from high demand fields such as basic sciences, technology/engineering, medical sciences, economics, information communication technology (ICT) etc. The largest share of these scholars resides in overseas endowed with solid experiences, talents, exposures and world class positions. In addition to the preparation that leads to the conference, GSTS in tandem with all stakeholders will contribute to the post-conference follow-up and implementation of the outcomes. Hence, this conference is also believed to serve as a platform to bring all these and other scholars, share their talents and experiences, and take practical engagements to support their region (Tigrai regional state) and its people.

Consensus as Conference Mission
The overall mission of the conference is to bring about a consensus among the intellectual, political, economic and social elites of Tigrai with regard to the opportunities and challenges of realizing a holistic sustainable economic, social and environmental development of the region. The most critical avenues for action to be agreed up on during the grand conference will be documented in the form of a consensus report. The regional government will play an important role of giving its endorsement to the consensus report and its practical implementation. There will be a number of missions following the first grand conference and between subsequent conferences. An educational packet based on that report will be prepared and made available to every organization, schools and other bodies so that the people and students can learn the basic elements of the consensus. Famous artists and celebrities will be mobilized to go on media in and outside Tigrai to promote projects to be developed in line with the consensus that cumulatively, in the long run, will help in setting the region on a sustainable development trajectory. This will involve on one hand promoting the rich history of the region including traditional knowledge such as the Geez literature, while embarking on a socio-economic transformation of using cutting-edge technologies in different areas of the economy by capitalizing on Tigrai’s absolute and comparative advantages. This systematic and broader approach is adapted from the process and experiences followed by developed countries such as Sweden when they developed their national consensus.

Conference Goals and Objectives

The overall goal of the conference is to seek a well-functioning quadrilateral relationship among the four sectors with all-inclusive consideration of the natural resource management/environment sector with the goal of creating a knowledge-driven economy in Tigrai by 2030, in line with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of UN-2030.

The specific objectives of the conference include:

  • Developing indicators of successful actual interactions among the four parties and the natural resource management/environment and identifying the specific actors within each sector
  • Identification of the absolute and comparative advantage as well as gaps and challenges of Tigrai nationally and globally
  • Developing a list of successful outcomes of the interactions in the quadruple helix relationship
  • Establishing a model of sustainable relationships between the four sectors based on planned interaction and goal of achieving a knowledge-driven society as well as economy
  • Determining the drivers of the interaction by focusing on how the interaction will evolve over time and thereby applied in the perspective of the region