I believe Kofi Annan put it best when he delivered a speech to the World Summit on the Information Society in 2013 when he broke down how multi-layered the digital divide is. South Africa, as one of the most developing countries on the continent is quite the emerging player in the age of the digital, as industry honours the emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). However, to even compete on a global stage with other 4IR economies, we need to focus on how to continue to participate in a digital world with profound inequalities that impedes social equality. And, in order to do that, these are the issues that I believe the nation can, and should prioritise:
February 11 is the date that the United Nations and its key partners and stakeholders worldwide marked for International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This day is important as it highlights the matter in question that sees less women in Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) fields, and to promote and empower more young women to take a role in the industry, especially as we’re in both the Digital and Fourth Industrial Revolutions. In South, the numbers aren’t inspiring either, as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that South Africa has approximately 40% of women scientists. Gender and cultural inequality has played a major role in the lack of adoption of women in this field as from a young age. The content that’s desired for young girls when it comes to aspirations (this from the toys played to gender specific assignments) is also culturally rooted. It’s no surprise that South Africa (and the rest of the world) is seeing a rise in programmes particularly tailored for young women who code like GirlHype and GirlCode to mention a few; it goes beyond the content of technology, but also what the community of other women coders can do to impact the psychological output inspired and having role models to look up to.
Tied to gender inequality is the cultural inequality that exists that enables the digital divide to thrive. South Africa is a country with much diversity, and in this diversity is many languages even though English is predominantly the teaching language of the country across all stages of learning across institutions. Can teaching in one’s native language impact the adoption and remove the intimation barrier of entering the market? Dr Mmaki Jantjies who is the Head of Information Systems and Lecturer at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and lecturer definitely believes so.
“I dedicate much of my research to seeing how can develop mobile learning software systems, accessible in South African languages in STEM subjects, that support teaching and learning in this area. In developing various adaptive mobile systems, I hope to address the existing contextual challenges in these sectors.” – Dr Mmaki Jantjies, who has worked with organisations like Mozilla and has, at present as a Google grant to develop curricula in native tongues and teach teachers how to navigate digital classrooms, and has had success.
Needing the language to decode the science is the argument. In a country where assessment is only majorly assessed in two languages (namely Afrikaans and English), and where Section 29(2) of the Constitution of South Africa is conditional on teaching in a learner’s language, more can be done to remove the veil of language intimidation. If leading economies like in Europe, North America, USSR and China have seen success with such and with it, seen students acquiring education and participating in the knowledge economy, then through political and societal will, it can be possible too for this nation.
South Africa has one of the most expensive data costs globally. According to research conducted by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the country has the 3rd most expensive costs across BRICS countries. The country’s market is not a monopolistic one in telecommunications, there are a number of service providers including Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Cell C and newly launched Rain which is a mobile data-only service at 5c per meg (R50 per gig), of which was introduced to the market as a call to action and gap to the high data costs. As costs continue to rise, for both consumer and producer, the market requires more competition, which as a result will offer us as consumers an opportunity to participate in the digital economy. As briefly mentioned, the cost of operating in the digital age is costly not only the consumer but also the telecommunication companies due to lack of availability of spectrum because of the delay in the government-led process of digital migration. According to Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub, because South Africa has not had access to spectrum of data for nearly over 14 years, this has caused the continuous hikes in prices and this needs and can be reduced by almost half if its introduced. At the end of the day, in as much as projects like Project Isizwe and Broadband Game Changer are implemented, the quality and speed of data of these public wifi hotspots are limited and for a long term play, could impede the stride that the strategy’s goal has.
The president of South Africa, in his recent State of the Nation address highlighted 4IR and mentioned that “…over the next six years, we will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.”. This is inspired, and through the pipelines of education and infrastructure, government has a major role to play as an enabler of attempting to close the gap of the digital divide that exists. The reliance on aided development from the private sector and creating development policies that are only inclusive and benefit certain players in the industry is not wise, engagement with other strategic and key ecosystem players like universities, startups, STEM-focused NPCs are going to play a major role in pivoting acceleration at the matter at hand. On infrastructure, while it has taken over a decade for the spectrum issue to be resolved between the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services and ICASA for digital migration to take place, President Cyril Ramaphosa cemented confidence in that a new deadline for the completion of digital migration had been placed and that is was July 2020. As Ramaphosa mentioned, that this solution could provide “ …unlock significant value in the telecommunications sector, increase competition, promote investment and reduce data costs." , which in turn, will enable many more South Africans to access data, and access it cheaply, if only government plays its role in enabling.
Development comes in many perspectives and is no silver bullet, especially because its an answer framework that invites and honours practices from diverse disciplines like academia and culture and not just politics. What’s needed before access to tools and capital distribution by key stakeholders, is a policy that focuses on the strategy of ICTD and serves it as a precondition to the strategy, this is one of the key ways that we can continue our efforts in bridging the digital divide.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the website, and between work, school and the new role with Circle of Young Intrapreneurs as Chapter Lead, an incredible global organisation for young intrapreneurs, it’s been a tough balance but I want to thank you for the continued support and constant resharing and engagement with the content. As such, I thought it only fair to share on some of the activities that’s been keeping me busy on these streets which includes some speaking, mentoring and some contributions on other platforms.
Some speaking engagements included:
1. Facilitating the Cape Innovation Technology Initiative Tech Skills Readiness Programme with their Software Engineering cohort as they embark on their careers. This is a great programme that looks at aspiring software engineering students largely from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, and seeds knowledge and skills so as to cultivate the STEM future workforce for South Africa! An incredible knowledge sharing afternoon it was.
2. When this email came into my inbox, I couldn’t stop beaming. It was the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and what made me happier was the request to mentor for the day and share my journey was with their Youth@Work and their 60 phenomenal young women, who looked like me and came from the same township and a desire for knowledge and access was there. The opportunity was to engage with these young women on finding employment and choosing a career path – which as we all know how intimidating it can be when you’re still in your late teens. I’m so honoured to be able to get the constant opportunity to engage with young, black women and use my platform for such, to empower with information and access more than anything - be it through work or otherwise. I was left inspired ?❤
3. About two weeks ago, I flew to Pretoria to facilitate a panel discussion on Power and Influence of Young Trailblazers in Corporate and Business that had fellow One Young World Ambassador Farai Mubaiwa on the panel. The Young Corporate Leader‘s Women’s Day celebrations included a keynote addresses by Ipeleng Mkhari and Dr Matete Madiba, just to mention a few of the phenomenal women who got to use their platforms and engage with us. Well done to fellow Ambassador Kamogelo Lesabe for pulling this stunning event together with your team
4. I really do enjoy spending my time with my peers and those even younger, especially still in their teens and impressionable when it comes to making impactful decisions like what subject choices and the career choices that are available for their choosing – of course the bias in me leans towards STEM careers, especially in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I got to have some time with these students at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) recently. Mmaki Jantjies, Head of Information Systems at UWC shared the experience.
Associate Professor at SARChI, Chair of African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, University of Johannesburg on his podcast. In it, we looked at the role of Venture Capital as well as other ingredients for start-up success in South Africa, which can be found in this link - https://soundcloud.com/mzukisiq/start-up-opportunities-and-venture-capital , aswell as a feature on Daily Maverick on South Africa’s Silent Start-Up Revolution which he authoured
One the most impactful and growing technology entrepreneurial schools in Africa is Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), which over the years has premise in Ghana and recently Nigeria and South Africa, with plans to launch in Ivory Coast and Kenya soon. I had the opportunity to host a session on Open Innovation and Community Building at one of their Community Conversations in Cape Town, as well as share some of the nuggets from the experience and my journey as a junior executive in corporate innovation- https://meltwater.org/open-innovation-and-community-building-with-vuyolwethu-dubese/
On the 2nd of May, Thomson Reuters Labs – Cape Town, in partnership with The Durban Innovation Hub and The Makerspace, and supported by the World Economic Forum Global Shapers hosted an Africa 4.0 Innovation Breakfast Experience with a focus on The Power of Co-creation and Africa 4.0 as a pre-cursor to The World Economic Forum (WEF) Africa 2017.
Unpacking Africa 4.0
The breakfast brought together corporate innovation panellists from Grinrod, Thomson Reuters and Kusini Water to unpack Africa 4.0 and provide insights into Africa’s data scarcity gap, how corporate innovation has its role to growing the continent and exploring where Africa is going. Thought leader of industry and founder of WEF, Klaus Schwab describes the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a revolution that is empowering and human centred that is driven by the convergence of new technologies with the physical, digital and biological worlds. It is a revolution that will impact economies and industries, and will stretch itself to challenge ideas in how we communicate, consume and produce.
What does investing in the Fourth industrial revolution mean for Africa - dubbed Africa 4.0?
In understanding what Africa 4.0 is and its impact, Thomson Reuters’ SVP, Head of Innovation for Africa, Saidah Nash Carter kickstarted the discussion by unraveling what was at the centre of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “Humanity and the impact that technology has on people is the ultimately the heart of the latest revolution, and our role as Thomson Reuters can be to leverage its proven strength in data innovation to convene and empower the increasingly interconnected ecosystem.” Nash Carter expanded on the concept, talking to the opportunity that Africa 4.0 presents for inclusive growth for developing markets.
Tapping the opportunity of Shared Business Value creation through Africa 4.0
“It is possible to do good business, profit and social impact are not mutually exclusive.” Using the Port Maputo in Mozambique as a case study, panelist Cathie Lewis, Group Company Secretary of Grinrod, expressed the concern about shared business value creation when engaging in the commercial value of corporate innovation. Grinrod is a global holding company that operates in the freight logistics, shipping and financial services, and does so with the unique objective of servicing Africa trade flows.
Speaking to the company’s customer relationship with Maputo Port, Lewis expressed the opportunity to create a shared business value chain in Mozambique since the aid-reliant country’s financial aid cut by a couple of donors in 2016 meant unstable economic growth and activity. The opportunity in shared business value creation is in the World Bank’s Mozambique’s strategy in reinvesting the natural wealth and the country’s build environment asset of the Port and decentralize it for human and institutional capital and do good business.
The value created from solutions of such challenges lies at the intersection of Africa 4.0 and its technologies and recognizing that value add needs to come from the corner of multi-stakeholder engagement. This ecosystem is one that recognises the stakeholders at Port Maputo, the Mozambican government to workers, and immediate communities. The objective of Africa 4.0 should aim to look at how we can harness these new technologies to share business value creation for all stakeholders involved
Investing in multi-stakeholder cooperation across all industry
Bringing the conversation to multi-stakeholder investments, Nash Carter recognised the value of entrepreneurs in empowering communities and economies, just as Murendeni Mafumo is with Kusini Water. Using nano-technology and solar power to produce water, Kusini Water thrives on sustainable business models of lease agreements, pay per litre of water used and sale of the systems. A passionate water scientist and entrepreneur, Mafumo echoed his conviction of decentralization of resources in industries, and using the opportunity of collaboration as a tool of accelerating innovation, and shared business value.
Collaboration of startups, private and public sectors is at the heart of innovation, this value creation should not only be empowering, but be built on self-sustaining models like Mafuno's business.
Harnessing the power of Africa 4.0
With a defined term of Africa 4.0 for us to understand, how do we leverage the potential of this revolution of humanity to achieve SDGs, Vision 2030 and the agendas of all stakeholders involved? This can be enabled with disruptive leadership that is both responsive and responsible, and continued investments in push strategies of partnerships that share the same purpose in value creation and empowerment for everyone involved in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.