Freeing SA’s Innovation Talent
In today’s fast-paced technology driven society the barriers between the physical and digital worlds are breaking down with each passing day. This is a great opportunity to leverage on the offerings of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) for sustainable growth, argues SINA LEGONG.
It is a well-documented fact that information and communications technology (ICT) and affordable access to broadband drive significant economic growth and opportunity within Africa. At the same time, there is growing concern about the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on jobs, in most part through ICT and especially for those at the bottom of the industrial pyramid. South Africa, like most of our African sister nations, will not be immune to this “job disruption.”
This in the face of growing unemployment among youth provides all the conditions for a perfect storm that may set us back many more years. One in three or 38% of youth were reported to be unemployed in South Africa in March 2018. While these conditions and statistics seem mostly negative, it also offers a great opportunity for youth to reshape the future here at home and across Africa. We represent the youngest and arguably the most creative population on earth.
Africa has proven its ability to leapfrog ICT infrastructure and rapidly adopt innovative and disruptive digital business models, take financial and insurance technologies as an example. In addition, despite the global hype and poster boys of entrepreneurships our continent has an incredible history of people hustling and working hard every day by trading and maintaining sustainable lively hoods through running their own small businesses.
Not every entrepreneurial success story needs a big “exist”. Often the most powerful stories are those of parents providing safe homes for their children, ensuring there is a meal for the family and providing the stepping-stones so the next generation can do better and even more.
I come from an entrepreneurial family and have, for most of my career counted myself among these big economy “hustlers”. Currently, in my role as Coordinator for mLab Southern Africa, a youth skills and start-up and innovation lab focused on Mobile and new ICT, I get to work with many aspiring young people who deeply believe that ICT will not only help define a better life for themselves but will also solve some of the major problems on the continent and potentially the world.
It is sad however to know that while the technologies exist and the passion and ambition are bubbling up everywhere on our continent, there remains a massive gap in accessing opportunities, especially early ones, and platforms to connect with like minded innovators and talent.
South African start-ups and especially innovators, need to start connecting into the continent if we are to build a digital advantage for us and the next generations. We are blessed to have so many of the big digital multinational companies based in South Africa and can even proudly count some of them as home grown. Here they compete for labels like being most innovative, most African and most loved but there seems to remain a lack of real and purposeful investment in youth and creating greater access for them to be part of the ICT economy.
Do not get me wrong, much of the effort and resources going into activities like hackathons and sponsoring quick entrepreneurial weekends are helping seed greater interest and confidence among youth, but it takes a lot more to build a business, a novel technology or the skills to access meaningful employment in the ICT industry. If my voice were loud enough to be heard, I would call on these organisations to commit to ambitious targets as part of a fuller value chain.
Do not count us towards just another key performance indicator and tick box but rather commit to training more young people with ICT skills. Get directly involved with universities to ensure skills relevance. Employ more junior software developer and designer who do not have prior “job” experience. Make it your mission to provide skill and empower more young women. Become employer-as-teacher organizations. Invest diligently in youth owned digital start-ups. Moreover, most of all make it possible for more of us to spend time online connecting, learning and creating, for example, hashtags such as #DataMUSTfall.
Here at home, (South Africa) we remain one of the most expensive data countries in the world and the cost far outweighs just the Rand and cents spent on data bundles, it is costing us a more prosperous future and our future participation in the fifth industrial revolution.
*Legong is the mLab Southern African Coordinator, Co-Founder of Raeketsetsa, a programme to inspire, connect and skill more young women in ICT and a passionate technologist who believes technology can help change the world but will never replace the creativity and energy of people.