By Army Capt. Rick Scoggins
North Carolina National Guard
RALEIGH, N.C. (2/11/13) - North Carolina has long been a state known for technology and innovation. Indeed, Research Triangle Park (RTP) contains some of the most brilliant minds and some of the most cutting edge businesses in the world today.
So it is only fitting that North Carolina also sets the standard again in diplomatic relations and the sharing of ideas and concepts with other countries.
Recently a delegation from the southern African country of Botswana, as part of North Carolina’s State Partnership Program (SPP), visited the state in order to understand how private industry collaborates with state government and universities so they can develop similar research facilities like RTP in their country.
The Botswana delegation was composed of Republic of Botswana’s Innovation Hub Board members, chief executive officer Alan Boshwaen, director of cluster development Dr. Budzanani Tacheba and director of marketing and registration Dr. Geoffery Seleaka.
“When people are looking for business opportunities, we are the proverbial matchmaker,” said North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall about her support of the visit.
The three men, escorted by a member of the North Carolina National Guard, an organization that also partners with Botswana, visited the state secretary of State, RTP and North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus.
They networked with key leaders in innovation, technology and research and development in all of these venues to see how their board could create a similar system in their country.
“We want to play a key role in developing R&D in South Africa,” said Boshwaen. “We have the ability to affect nearly 270 million people with the creation of a free trade area initiative in this region.”
Botswana is rich in diamond production and is a major source of diamonds around the world. About one-third of Botswana’s export earnings and about half of the government’s revenues come from diamond mining.
The delegation from Botswana used this visit however, to talk about expanding their economy through technology research with international corporations, universities and science industries. By leveraging and synchronizing all of these entities together, Botswana could become a global hub in the African region for the creation of new technologies and industry improvements.
North Carolina’s SPP began in 1995 with an initial partnership with Moldova, conducting similar trading of ideas and capabilities through government, industry, education and military disciplines. Botswana has been a partner with North Carolina since 2008.
Throughout this time the three nations have been collaborating on many projects together, like the sharing of medical research between, East Carolina University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, multiple military collaborations between active and reserve component and multiple humanitarian collaborations with North Carolina emergency response professionals, private industry and agricultural leaders.
During the visit, the Botswana delegation visited RTP and learned how the research center developed nearly 60 years ago into one of the nation’s leading technology hubs in the country.
“Companies here (in RTP) invest money in the three local universities in order to attract new graduates and develop ongoing relationships with the institutions for research,” said Mason Ailstock, vice president of business development at the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina.
Ailstock explained how companies that reside on the RTP campus invest money into programs focused on recruiting other world class companies to consider moving to RTP.
Ailstock also said that the proximity to three major North Carolina universities makes RTP an attractive fit for a lot of companies to consider. The companies then use these affiliations to grow science in technology business in North Carolina.
“We wish to advance science, technology and innovation research instead of relying solely on diamond mining,” said Boshwaen.
According to Boshwaen, graduate and undergraduate institutions in Botswana have a very short history, but the partnerships they have seen in North Carolina with universities give hope that bridging these gaps and relationships will foster success.
“We are interested in attracting more international companies into Botswana, much like RTP,” said Boshwaen. “Africa is a growth story, well positioned to make advances in technology research.”
Boshwaen expressed interest in partnering with N.C. companies in the future.
On the final day of their visit, Boshwaen and his colleagues visited North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus, home to corporations like Red Hat, ABB, Advanced Energy Corporation, Glaxo Smith Kline and many others.
The centennial campus is the home of more than 60 corporate partners and more than 75 NCSU research centers, institutes, laboratories and department units on almost 2,500 acres of land. The facilities house several areas of research and development like smart technology and biotechnology, nanotechnology and advanced materials, environmental health, the NCSU Solar Center, smart systems and information technology.
The group visited with experts in the areas of innovation, bio tech and clean technologies and textiles. They saw how research done by North Carolina State students contributed greatly to advances in things like textile engineering and polymer research. This research led to more efficient fire retardant and lightweight materials that can be used by firefighters and also into body armor advances for military applications.
Overall, visits like this continue to foster a great relationship between the two countries and build bridges toward growth and cultural understanding for the future.