A digitised Africa will bring Soshanguve up to pace with Seattle
A top SA entrepreneur told a gathering of 2,000 execs that getting Africa up to digital speed would change everything
It’s time to accelerate the digitisation of our country and continent because “the benefits of greater digitisation are endless”.
“This is the first time in the history of mankind that a kid in Soshanguve has the same access to information as a kid in Seattle,” said Gil Oved, one of SA’s top entrepreneurs.
He was spreading the digitisation message to more than 2,000 CEOs who gathered in Cape Town this week for the annual global YPO Edge.
YPO (Young Presidents Organisation) is a network of chief executives under the age of 45 across the globe.
According to Oved, the chief operating officer of tech-focused investment firm LLH Capital, digitisation is best visualised as a pyramid made up of three building blocks.
“The base of the pyramid is connectivity infrastructure. Above that is hardware, handsets and devices. On top of that is software and apps,” he said.
So what does Africa need to start building that up?
“First and foremost, Africa needs more undersea cabling, more cellphone towers and more fibre laid to more homes. More connectivity to more people with more competition and better pricing is the first crucial step to digitisation.”
He said once access was available, people in Africa would need “more and cheaper devices in the form of laptops, smartphones, point-of-sale systems and a host of other terminals that connect online”.
When those two building blocks are in place, Africa then also needs “hundreds of thousands of clever developers and disruptive entrepreneurs to create African solutions to distinctly African problems”.
“From there, the sky’s the limit: Digitisation comes from enabling the continent to connect to an active and global economy with fintech, agritech, edutech, biotech – the list goes on. Access to information has traditionally been a great divider, but now it is no more. Africans can compete on a global scale and export IP and innovation to the world,” he said.
Then there’s the benefit of leapfrog technology – African countries that have missed out on certain phases in the tech revolution can now jump straight ahead to the next phase without being weighed down.
Oved cites M-Pesa in Kenya as the perfect example.
“M-Pesa is a mobile money transfer system started in Kenya just over a decade ago. Rural Kenyan fishermen, who for many years were ‘price takers’ and would simply fish and hope for the best, are now using M-Pesa to get real-time pricing information from the market. Based on that, they decide where and what to fish for.
He said they had gone from “price takers” to “price makers”, and it has been a game changer.
“It’s a leapfrog. Africans don’t have legacy systems and old infrastructure to reverse-engineer. We can plan new cities with digital technology at the heart of everything we do. That is leapfrogging our challenges using technology,” he said.
Then there is the pressing question of priority. Can we even talk about technology in education when some of our schools still have pit latrines?
According to Oved, “it is because our schools still have pit latrines that we should be embracing technology”.
“Technology provides our best chance of creative, innovative and inexpensive solutions for some of our most dire needs.”
He said artificial intelligence and biotech were the basics that would fuel “every single aspect of our lives” and present our best chance of “bridging economic inequality and solving dire poverty”.