Science can help solve South Africa's problems
The biggest problems facing South Africa and the world today can be understood, addressed and solved through science, believes the 2012 Nobel Laureate for Physics, Professor Serge Haroche from the Collège de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris.
Visiting the University of the Western Cape (UWC) to attend the 2013 Science Faculty Research Open Day, Professor Haroche said science was instrumental in finding answers to the biggest issues of our times – from global warming and climate change to health and socio-economic problems.
He said South Africa was no different from many other countries in the world – both developed and developing – in terms of the issues it faced and said science could not only provide solutions but also provide much-needed context for understanding them.
“The world needs new technology, but it can’t simply ask for new devices. New technology is born from blue sky research and time and trust is needed for this,” said Professor Haroche. He added that the global market valued speed and short-term returns and these conditions were at odds with the way scientists had to work if they were to produce groundbreaking research.
Research Open Day organiser and nuclear astrophysicist Professor Nico Orce said the event was a huge success and added that the significance of bringing a Nobel Laureate in physics to UWC for the first time could not be underestimated – especially at a time when UWC is leading the field in physics research in South Africa.
The university is involved in several exciting scientific projects, studying nature from the smallest to the largest scales, from sub-atomic particles to galaxies. Most notably, UWC is driving the first African-led experiment in low-energy nuclear physics at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. This experiment would take place in 2015 and preliminary work is already being done in anticipation.
He noted that the value of the Open Day was not only in the sharing of scientific knowledge in academic presentations and exhibits, but also in the exposure to great minds such as Professor Serge Haroche. “It is a wonderful opportunity to motivate and inspire students, showing them that a Nobel Prize winner is also just an ordinary person like them.”
Professor Haroche was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics jointly with David J Wineland for “ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems".
At UWC, he gave two lectures to students and staff members as well as the general public, and also spoke to schoolchildren from various schools in the Western Cape in a hugely popular lecture during which he also answered some of the learners’ questions.
In his lectures, “Power & Strangeness of the Quantum World” he made reference to his own award-winning research and explained how quantum theory opened up the microscopic world of particles, atoms and photons, giving scientists the keys to most modern technologies – like computers, CD and DVD laser technology, and even the Internet, most of which were unknown 60 years ago, but without which we could not imagine our world today.
“Without basic research, novel technologies could not be invented,” emphasised Professor Haroche. After the lecture, he said that it was more important than ever to educate people about science and the role that science had in the world. “The public often does not understand how science works and there is a lot of distrust and fear.”
Professor Haroche said people were sometimes suspicious of science, believing that scientists were plotting against them, for instance, as in the case of climate change and global warming. “Science is a tool for asking questions and giving context to finding solutions. But science doesn’t decide anything. It is up to society to decide how to use the solution.”
Professor Haroche also had advice for young scientists starting out. “Don’t be intimidated by all the knowledge that is out there. You don’t have to know everything; you just need to know one thing before the others. You have to have a passion for what you do, and not follow what is fashionable.”
One student who particularly enjoyed the Open Day was nuclear physics PhD student Siyabonga Majola. He said attending the research day and interacting with other academics had shown him that the work he was doing was relevant and that he could really make a difference in the world. He said Professor Haroche’s lectures were a highlight. “It gives you hope. Rubbing shoulders with someone like that is every student’s dream because it shows you what is possible.”
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.