Prof. Peter Quartey of ISSER and Mr. Ebenezer Asante from MTN engage participants during the fireside conversation, moderated by Adadzewa Otoo, ReFinD Project Director.
ReFinD, in collaboration with ISSER, convened a fireside chat featuring Mr. Ebenezer Asante, Vice President of Markets at MTN Group, to explore the topic of "MTN’s Economic Development Impact in Africa: Areas for Collaboration with Academia." The event served as a platform for stakeholders to deliberate on how to enhance industry-academia collaboration within Ghana's digital finance landscape.
Beyond MTN’s impactful role in Africa, participants gained insights on the immense opportunities in big data at MTN and how academia can leverage this to facilitate research for innovation and development. Discussions also highlighted the challenges hindering effective collaborations between industry and academia and how these could be addressed.
In his opening remarks, Prof. Peter Quartey, Director of ISSER and Executive Director of ReFinD, underscored the vital role of industry-academia collaborations in aligning academic pursuits with industry needs. The event is a key part of activities and engagements of ReFinD, aiming to expand ISSER’s research and policy advocacy presence within the data economy, notably in agent network operations.
Mr. Asante echoed the significance of collaboration between academia and industry and stressed that "It’s about time industry collaborated with the likes of ISSER” to effectively drive innovation for development.
The event attracted distinguished officials from MTN and the University of Ghana, notably Prof. Felix Asante, Pro Vice Chancellor at the Office of Research and Institutional Development (ORID), and Prof. Robert Darko Osei, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies (SGS), whose presence greatly enriched the dialogue, yielding valuable insights.
"ReFinD's pivotal role in convening this successful event underscores its ongoing commitment to driving strategic engagements with key players in the digital finance space, facilitating invaluable collaboration for the advancement of financial inclusion," observed Prof. Quartey.
Exploring value-for-money collaboration avenues
Discussants identified that a key disconnect between industry and academia was in defining funding objectives. SGS Dean Prof. Osei noted that, this "disconnect" between industry and academia, has led to “superficial” collaborations between industry and academia.
On one hand, industry requires a direct business case to fund, whiles academia requires grant capital for research, whose impact might be in the long term. Participants agreed that this was due to the absence of enabling policy such as tax related incentives, to encourage industry to make significant investments to research as seen across the global north. Nonetheless, there was consensus that while advocacy is being advanced for enabling national policies to facilitate research funding, academia should explore opportunities in demand driven research related to the operational/opex budget of industry. Research related to the operation of industry could be easily financed under operational cost.
Responding to this, the Pro Vice Chancellor of ORID, Prof. Asante urged MTN to communicate their research needs to academia, emphasizing the importance of aligning research directions for effective collaboration. “Let us know your direction, so that we can feed in,” he stated.
Beyond this, the MTN Group Vice President of Markets proposed an alternative collaboration approaches beyond funding. These could include collaborations that allow access to the telecommunications giant's data for teaching, research and learning. Also, research institutions could secure support from industry as implementation partners to enhance their applications for research grants. Additionally, MTN could support talent development initiatives such as career fairs, providing teaching resources to universities, innovation competitions/hackathons for students among others.
Joining forces for effective collaborations
To take the outcomes of the conversation forward, Mr. Asante noted that successful collaborations require time and the commitment of the people seeking it. He challenged the University of Ghana to approach industry in a structured and centralized manner, instead of silo requests from individual departments for effective impact. “The first thing we can do is to move this to the highest level… let’s structure it to minimize fragmentation and the lack of focus.”
Prof. Quartey revealed that ISSER has embarked on the development of a dedicated data repository, aimed at hosting essential data and research evidence on agent networks as well as collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and financial sector regulators to develop a unified financial inclusion database for Ghana. He noted that, these represents opportunities for collaboration with industry which hold great potential for impact across the development of the digital finance ecosytem in Ghana.
The joint ISSER-ReFinD fireside chat provided a conducive environment for participants to engage in open and meaningful discussions, exploring various avenues of collaboration between academia and MTN. It marks a significant contribution to ISSER's ongoing efforts, particularly under the ReFinD research initiative, aimed at enhancing the role and influence of research in shaping the data economy, with a specific focus on advancing financial inclusion through agent networks.
It was held on January 31, 2024, at ISSER.