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4 December 2023, Johannesburg – RIIS has been officially included as a member of the GEO Group of Earth Observations Associate, which is the largest earth observation (EO) partnership in the world, wielding significant convening power through its 115-strong governmental members around the globe, and over 150 participating international organisations.

RIIS is one of a handful of South African private sector companies participating in GEO. The firm was formally endorsed at the 61st GEO Executive Committee and communicated during the GEO Week and Ministerial Summit held in Cape Town in early November. There are currently 31 African government members within GEO. 

GEO’s global multi-disciplinary network connects governments, academia, research institutions and increasingly the private sector, seeking to actively improve and coordinate global EO systems and promote vast open data sharing. Through this collaborative network, gaps in current solutions can be more readily identified, as well as a reduction in the duplication of efforts. Looking down from space – using satellites to observe earth phenomena and activity, is an extremely exciting opportunity for countries around the world, where these EO technologies can assist with the mitigation of social and environmental risks and help solve long-existing challenges.    

Imraan Saloojee, an executive at RIIS – who took part in a plenary session at this year’s GEO Week – says that currently GEO is listening carefully to what the private sector has to say and is considering ways to engage more closely with the sector. Saloojee says that it is exciting for RIIS, Africa’s largest pure-play innovation firm, to have been accepted as a GEO member. “Our rich experience in space advisory work, which currently includes space innovation ecosystem development for African governments, will benefit further from direct participation in cutting-edge discussions on earth observation. Particularly our membership will help deepen our engagements with the global earth observation community, including political, scientific and end-user groupings.”  

Following the meeting in early November, the GEO Group of Earth Observations adopted the 2023 Cape Town Ministerial Declaration. The Declaration endorses the GEO Post-2025 Strategy Earth Intelligence for All, which seeks to continue GEO’s leadership in coordinating and enabling the provision and use of EO across scales, sectors, and geographies. Furthermore, the Declaration commits GEO to developing an implementation plan to guide execution of the Strategy and reaffirms the integral role of young people as important players in the drive towards sustainable development. 

EO data’s benefits have long been recognised by the United Nations as a critical enabler to meeting its sustainable development goals.  A 2015 resolution, “A/RES/70/1: Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” includes a specific declaration (no. 76) to, “…  promote transparent and accountable scaling-up of appropriate public-private cooperation to exploit the contribution to be made by a wide range of data, including earth observation and geospatial information, while ensuring national ownership in supporting and tracking progress.” 

Media company Bloomberg reports that the global space economy grew by 8% to $546 billion in 2022. Over the next five years the sector is expected to grow by a further 41%. The commercial space sector will have the biggest impact on the growth of the space economy. Last year alone the commercial space sector’s revenue was pegged at $427.6 billion, with position, navigation and timing (PNT) satellite data accounting for 39% of all commercial revenue.  

Saloojee says, “To tease out the broad opportunities for space-based solutions that include but are not only limited to EO data requires connections, collaborations, cooperation and funding. GEO is a strong conduit to all of these. At RIIS we believe that the time is ripe to leverage what we have, to build our knowledge and grasp innovation solutions that can solve – through space – what for years have been immense development challenges in Africa.”