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Do Awards Foster Innovation? Entrepreneurship 

Do Awards Foster Innovation?

Inspiration can be gained in several formats. I could decide to do something:

  • So as to be recognized,
  • To solve a problem,
  • As on offshoot of an Idea that came while I was on the move

What Inspired Early Inventors

Awards 1

The invention of the wheel for example, or the telephone, or the internet, or the bulb…if you look at these major inventions there is something unique about them. For one, each of them were not as a result of Awards being dangled and bids being sought. The story of the invention of the paper clip is very interesting. It was never deliberate. In fact, the story of the invention of stick up pads or ‘post it notes’ was purely accidental!

On the other hand, the story of the invention of flight was revolutionary as it was amazing. Hundreds of thousands of dollars had been set aside and given to a certain professor in a University ostensibly to invent an aeroplane. He failed. A certain preacher was also waxing eloquent at that time, preaching that God never intended man to fly, that if that was the case, God would have created them with wings. Reminds me of some inspirational speaker some years ago who said, “If God wanted you to smoke, he would have created with a chimney”, but I digress.

ACIA ICT Innovation Awards at Kampala Serena. Photo from #ACIA2016
ACIA ICT Innovation Awards at Kampala Serena. Photo from #ACIA2016

Unbeknown to this preacher, his kids in the backyard were experimenting with the idea, and for the first time in history Orville and Wilbur Bright flew. These guys were not given any prior awards to motivate them. They were not involved in a challenge. However, they were passionately experimenting with something that they felt was important to them.

Are All Inventors Geniuses?

Come to think of it and let’s ask ourselves this question: What motivates us to invent and innovate? Is Innovation the domain only reserved for geniuses? I think we need to pick up this discussion with the last question: Geniuses vs Innovation. At some level, when you think about Innovation and Invention, what comes to mind are names like Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and so on. Now, let’s agree, at some level major world changing innovations have been brought to life by geniuses in the true sense of the word.

Green Hill Academy, Second Runner's Up Young ICT Innovation Award at #ACIA2016
Green Hill Academy, Runner’s Up at #ACIA2016 Awards

Was Jobs A Genius? Is Gates A Genius?

So let’s ask this question: Is Bill Gates a Genius? Is Steve Jobs a Genius? Is Mark Zuckerberg a Genius? Can you compare these guys with an authentic Genius like Albert Einstein? I will leave you to it.

In his book ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell documents the stories behind the rise of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and tries to shed some light on what the thinks made them inventors, innovators that are rocking our world right now. In that book, it boils down to one thing: Passion. So let’s ask another question: Was there anything invented that passion was not in it? Surprisingly,Yes! The Paper clip and the stick up pads. But wait. This was as a result of passionate pursuit of ‘other projects’ that ultimately led to their invention. They were actually a spin-off of what other things that were happening at that moment in time.

Mixa Kids Team showing their Award on Digital Content at #ACIA2016
Mixa Kids Team showing their Award on Digital Content at #ACIA2016

Do Awards Foster Invention?

So back to our original question: Do giving of Awards and holding competitions foster innovation and invention? Looking at the background of what we have shared, the answer is Yes and No. The Uganda Communications Commission organized the ACIA2016 Awards on Friday the 20th May 2016. This took place at the Kampala Serena Hotel. The whole day had over 40 entrants exhibiting their innovations in several categories, although this was a purely ICT related initiative.

Later that evening, several of these startups were feted. On their Website, UCC says the following about the Awards:

The ACIA Awards is an annual initiative that fosters innovation through the recognition and reward of outstanding ICT innovations. ACIA provides a platform upon which outstanding ICT innovations can be showcased and propelled to further success”.

[Emphasis Mine]

The Verdict

If the Awards are held ostensibly to foster innovation, then we are failing. Why? Because as we have seen, inventions and innovations over the years have never been as a result of inspiration to win a challenge or an award. They have mostly been due to passion. If we are however holding the awards in order to fete and celebrate the spirit of invention and innovation, then we are on the right track. Why? Because what we are doing is that we are taking the existing passion and we are patting the innovators on the back, saying ‘good job’.


However, if all the innovator is doing is to get a pat on the back at one gala or another, then we are in for big trouble. The real inspiration for innovation would be to meet a felt need in the market. After the ACIA2016 Awards in Kampala Uganda, someone on twitter was seen posting thus:

“The thing with Innovations in Uganda is that you hear about them for the first and last time at Award Ceremonies”

Photo credit: Twitter
Photo credit: Twitter

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the crux of the whole story. What is the sustainability of the Innovations that are exhibited at these challenges? In the upcoming posts, we shall feature some of the works of the exhibitors at the ACIA2016 at Kampala Serena on May 20th 2016.

Question: What is your take on challenges and awards? Do they spur innovation and invention?

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