Harnessing the 4th Industrial Revolution to advance the SDG’s in Africa
This is a key moment where the advancing wave of digital and cyber technology, with all of the anticipated intersections, and rapid progress towards greater connectedness, can converge to position Africa in a unique way.
The United Nations Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), agreed upon in September 2016, provide us with a framework of 17 goals, with 169 targets, developed in order to bring together global efforts towards ending poverty within 15 years. The SDG’s present us with a vision for achieving “a better, more equitable world” through sustainable development – using resources, investing, and developing technologies that will enable development in such a way as not to compromise the well-being of future generations. Not only does the agenda intend to be fully inclusive and to “leave no one behind,” but 2030 is only just around the corner!
The goals are strongly inter-linked and inter-dependent and they can be grouped in a number ways. For example, issues of women and gender equality are directly, and obviously, relevant to Goals 1,2,3,4,5, 8,10, 16 and 17, which are: no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality decent work and clean energy, reduced inequality, peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships to achieve the goal, respectively. Similarly, Goal 2, Zero Hunger, cannot be viewed separately from the goals on poverty (1), health (3), education (4), clean water (6), energy (7), and decent work and economic growth (8), and so on.
To achieve the SDG’s, countries will need to bring about major changes in all areas, including health, education, urban and rural environments, use of resources, and many others, and they will need to involve support and funding from all sectors – principally government, business and the community.
Against this complex framework of pressing priorities, the era of digitalisation, often called the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), is upon us. The evolution of digital and cyber-technologies is leading to the rapid rethinking of processes and new development of machines, to integration of data from widely varying sources, and creating networks where artificial intelligence and data science are enabling new ways of connecting. The Internet of things is one expression of this.
Joining the dots
For Africa, there is an opportunity to ‘join the dots’ between the SDG’S, the 4IR and our position. This is a key moment where the advancing wave of digital and cyber technology, with all of the anticipated intersections, and rapid progress towards greater connectedness, can converge to position Africa in a unique way. Rather than following the same developmental pathways that have already been followed elsewhere, we can seek ways to ‘leapfrog’ forwards by adopting new technologies and adapting them for regional application.
We need to develop the competencies that will enable us to advance our use of digital technologies. We need to continue to expand the connectivity that is at the heart of the digitalisation era – not to reinvent anything, but to customise it for our needs. In addition, we need coordination. Few African countries have developed national coordination and implementation strategies to address the SDG’s or systems for monitoring progress.
Researchers in Africa are, understandably focusing deliberately and proactively on the Sustainable Development Goals, as they move forward with their research agendas for the 21st century. In fact, nowhere is the research community better linked to the real work of achieving the SDG’s than in Africa. It is understood that research should address societal needs and should be developed and conducted collaboratively with contributions from communities and network partners on the continent. Trans disciplinary approaches are key and can bring people together to work on sustainable development, and Africa’s continent-wide networks can provide a mechanism to support this.
The fourth thing we need is skills that will fit with the jobs that people will do in the future – technological skills to enable the use of digital technologies in the creative industries and design as well as ICT, social skills to provide for future needs in terms of care, education, health and well-being, and cognitive skills to engender critical and creative thinking, self-motivation, and the capacity to learn and re-learn.
New activities such as mobile and social computing, gaming, and the use of smart devices can enable communication, connectedness and, importantly, new ways of working. Africans are already entrepreneurial, and many are ‘tech-savvy’ in a unique way that has grown out of necessity in a region where land-based communication has often been lacking or inaccessible. Mobile devices are more abundant, and are used more creatively, in Africa than many other regions of the world.
As we move into a 21st century future where 25 percent of the world’s under-25 year old people will be in Africa and seeking a living, the critical contribution we can make is to educate them for self-driven ways to work, and provide them with a globally connected continent.
*Prof Stephanie Burton is Vice-Principal, Research and Postgraduate Education at the University of Pretoria