The CSIR and It’s Plans to Industrialise Through Technology Commercialisation

By Fiona Wakelin & Koketso Mamabolo

“South Africa is a land of possibilities.” It’s a sentiment shared by many. Whether it be the poets praising the potential of this country, the leaders inspiring millions to work towards a better future, or the historians reflecting on how far we’ve come, and how much further we can go. But hearing it from Dr Thulani Dlamini, the CEO of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), offers a perspective which looks less at the broad brushstrokes but more towards the finer details and possibilities that scientific research illuminates.

And like our great poets, great leaders and great historians, Dr Dlamini turns to one of the motifs which make South Africa what it is, and what it could be: the people. “The CSIR is a national asset that belongs to all the people of South Africa,” says Dr Dlamini, speaking to Public Sector Leaders, just days after the launch of CSIR C³, the organisation’s new enterprise geared towards the commercialisation of its intellectual property. Dr Dlamini shares a textured understanding of the CSIR’s developmental mandate and how they’ve implemented a new strategy, with people at the very centre of the journey ahead.

A Developmental Mandate

“The capabilities that we have here and the potential that exists within the CSIR creates endless possibilities for us – together with the private sector, together with government – to address the problems our country is facing.” “We strongly believe that together we can create a better and brighter future for our country. In this case, the CSIR sees itself as an organisation that has a significant role to play with regards to that. And we continue to position ourselves to be the centre of thinking about the future of our country.”

While the CSIR is constantly working on exciting, complex projects, its mission is always the same: Contribute to industrial development, and the development of a capable state, through research, development, and innovation. Established through an act of parliament, in 1945, the CSIR has been driving innovation for almost 80 years with a proven track record of excellence and ingenuity.

CSIR Focus Areas

  • Advanced Agriculture and Food
  • Future Production: Manufacturing
  • Smart Places
  • Future Production: Chemicals
  • Future Production: Mining
  • Smart Mobility
  • NextGen Health
  • Defence and Security
  • NextGen Enterprises and Institutions

“The architects of the CSIR had the vision and the foresight to realise that for South Africa to grow its economy, and for South Africa to prosper, it needed to industrialise,” says Dr Dlamini, “and it needed to diversify from its heavy reliance on our natural wealth. The mineral resources that we take out of the ground, we need to use them to create industries that will diversify our economy. And the CSIR was established with that mindset.”

Dr Dlamini explains that while supporting industrialisation is a core component of their work, it also extends to offering solutions to the problems the country is facing, offering an example of how they collaborated with their partners to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing over 20 000 ventilators to public and private hospitals. “Our mission is to collaboratively innovate and localise technologies, whilst providing knowledge solutions for the inclusive and sustainable advancement of industry and society.“Therefore our contribution to industry, society and government is not only through innovation and localisation, it’s also through the knowledge that we provide. We make government smart buyers and smart users of technology and we contribute to evidence-based policy.”

The Innovation Ecosystem 

“It’s been a privilege to lead this organisation. And there are some very exciting things that we’ve done over this period. And key among those is the new strategy that we implemented, over four years, focusing on industrial development.” Having been a part of the organisation for many years before becoming CEO, Dr Dlamini is the perfect person to lead the CSIR down its new strategic path. This process is the result of a thorough strategic development exercise which highlighted the sectors of the economy where the CSIR feels it can have the most impact.

Among these are the manufacturing, mining, health, chemicals, energy, ICT, mobility and agricultural sectors, as well as defence and security. An important part of making this strategy a success is having an operating model which supports it. “We had to ensure that we sharpen our capabilities, not just the technical capabilities but also in terms of the support functions that we have within the organisation – that they are fit for purpose, that they are agile and that they deliver the value that we expect them to deliver within the organisation.” 

The CSIR took the strategy through a range of processes, including engagement with external stakeholders and the shareholder, the state. We needed to ensure that we strike a balance between the development of future looking capabilities, remaining relevant to industry needs of today and tomorrow and supporting the development of a capable state. The CSIR created CSIR C³ to accelerate the commercialisation of its intellectual property. In its innovation prospectus, the organisation describes it as “a dedicated capability to commercialise CSIR technologies at an accelerated pace and scale, acting as an accelerator and incubator for high-tech startups created from CSIR intellectual property.” 

There are two elements to the CSIR’s contribution to industrialisation. The first involves assisting existing enterprises with research and development, and the second involves commercialising its own intellectual property which they can licence to existing companies, or create a startup company. Dr Dlamini explains that to make CSIR C³ a success it will have to work together with an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors and development finance institutions. CSIR C³ will have the speed, agility and deal-making capabilities to drive commercialisation together with willing partners.

Over the past four years, the organisation has helped over 427 small and medium enterprises, signed over 110 joint technology development agreements with various partners in industry. It has also had many staff exchanges with industry, further strengthening their symbiotic relationship with private sector entities. Dr Dlamini calls them allies and there’s no better way to describe how important close collaboration is to industrialisation. As Dr Dlamini says, the CSIR has enabled the localisation of a number technologies.


“CSIR C³, pronounced CSIR C-cubed; the three Cs stand for: Collaborate, Create and Commercialise.” Dr Dlamini explains that the three also represents the three elements of their ecosystem, which are IP, entreprenuers and capital, and the three problems they are trying to solve: Unemployment, inequality and poverty. The enterprise offers opportunities for entrepreneurs, SMMEs, big business, investors and innovators. “The most important thing that is top of mind for us now is that we need to operationalise the commercialisation vehicle that we launched recently,” says Dr Dlamini.

People First 

“One of our values is that we are a people-centered organisation. We realise that without the right people, we will not achieve the intentions of our strategy. Thousands of people contribute to the CSIR’s work.” “When we developed the new strategy, we also had to develop a new set of values, which had to be aligned with the culture that we wanted to create within the organisation,” says Dr Dlamini. The CSIR ‘EPIC’ values stand for excellence, people-centred integrity and collaboration. “We are a people-centred organisation. That includes the people that work at the CSIR and the people of South Africa that we serve through our work, because the work that we do must translate into impact in terms of improving the quality of life of the people of South Africa.”


“We are also looking at expanding our footprint, particularly on the African continent, because we realise that as an organisation we have unique capabilities and we think that we can use this position to make a bigger impact on the continent .” The CSIR is exploring the endless possibilities. For South Africa and the whole continent.

Read The November Edition Here: