Dr Shawn Cunningham

I think of myself in three main roles:

Firstly, as a developer of practical and replicable economic development methods. This is mainly based around developing diagnostic methods and tools, or finding simpler ways to explain complex stuff. 

Secondly, I work as a coach and trainer of private sector development experts. Some of these experts are other consultants, but many work as experts within a range of public organisations or development institutions. Sometimes I teach at universities to undergraduate or post-graduate students, and in some cases I even supervise a few masters and Phd. students on topics related to Local Economic Development, Innovation Systems or the Technological Upgrading of industries.

My third role is that of a thinker, dreamer and tinkerer. I often take up assignments with the dual purpose of not only meeting the needs of my customer (and their stakeholders), but also of using this opportunity to try and develop a new way to explain, conduct or achieve something.

Perhaps then I can be best described as a system builder, combining people development skills with conceptual skills in a process consulting approach.

Main fields of expertise

  • Advisory support to leaders in government, business and academia to make decisions despite complexity and uncertainty
  • Private sector promotion and meso organisation development
  • Science, Technology and Innovation systems promotion
  • Industry modernisation, technological capability development
  • Improving Innovation Systems and Industry Competitiveness from the bottom up
  • Local and regional economic development
  • Creative Cluster and value chain promotion
  • Meso level Organizational Development and change management
  • Knowledge Intensive Business Services
  • Process consulting, discovery and process facilitation
  • Expert development and coaching


I have a personal weblog page where I share some ideas, new insights and experiences. If you are based in Southern Africa, then you may also be interested in the 1-day training events that I host often. If you are based in Europe, I frequently travel there to conduct training events or to make presentations. Send me an e-mail if you are interested in participating in any of these events.

More information can be found on my personal blog page. For a list of publications that I have contributed to, click here.

You can also reach me via E-Mail

Personal background

PhD. (Business Administration), 2009, Potchefstroom Business School, North West University, South Africa.

MBA (2001, North West University, South Africa)

  • 2007-present - Joined Mesopartner as a partner, working with various customers in Africa and Asia
  • 2003-2007 - Senior expert in the GTZ South Africa Local Economic Development and Business Development Services Programme
  • 2001-2002 - Worked in South African development agency NAMAC (National Manufacturing Advisory Centre Programme)
  • 1996-2001 - Own business in the IT sector. Involved in trade promotion, business chamber management and entrepreneurship promotion.

I am certified in:

  • Applying Capacity WORKS 
  • Change management and Organizational Development (GIMT)
  • Creative Facilitation and moderation (IFOK, INWENT, GTZ)
  • Value Chain promotion (GIZ, ILO)
  • Business Management Consulting (IBA, GIMT, NWU)
  • Project Management (GIMT)
  • Behavioral Coaching

Shawn lives in Pretoria, South Africa.


In 2010 I was appointed as a Research Associate with the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation (IERI) in South Africa. There I collaborate with fellow researchers on topics relating to the technological evolution and growth of Africa. This association gives me access to the international network of institutions and researchers working on innovation systems and economic growth, such as  Globelics (Global Network for Economics of Learning, Innovation, and Competence Building Systems). I sometimes teach subjects at IERI related to local and regional innovation systems and innovation.

I am an external board member of the Advisory Committee to the Agency Development Support unit of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) in South Africa.

I am a founding member of the LED Practitioners Network in South Africa, but in 2010 resigned from the executive committee of the LED Network (although I remain a fan of what they stand for). This network is now run by the South African Local Government Association, but I played a role in conceptualising and launching the network.

I am a member of the South African Institute of Business Advisors and can therefore provide strategic and technical advice to firms.

I serve on a variety of advisory boards and committees, and take my role as a social entrepreneur as an important investment into the institutions I am working with.

Current activities

Most of my current assignments are in the field of technology and innovation management. The main research issue I am working on is finding ways to stimulate or improve the innovation in industries or regions of a country. So I am not looking so much at innovation inside a firm, but more at innovation in industries or regions. I am working on the RALIS methodology, and I am responsible for the coordination around the theme of competitiveness and innovation.

But many people know me for my work in Local Economic Development. I have not completely abandoned this topic. Nowadays my focus is more on the systemic issues relating to territorial development, as well as the change and evolution aspects of territories. I know that in development everything is connected, so I know that I will bring the innovation and technology topics into the mainstream LED thinking soon!