Mobile, digital technology and social media have continued to spread faster than other human inventions. As such, many industries and economies have witnessed major disruptions.
However, the impact of these digital technologies on economic development is lagging behind. In fact, according to the World Development Report 2016, among the poorest poor, nearly seven out of every 10 persons have mobile phones.
The poorest households are more likely to have access to mobile phones than to toilets or clean water. The 2016 World Development Report titled Digital Dividends explores the potential of digital technologies and policies required to expand Internet connectivity, accelerate complementary reforms in other sectors beyond information and communication technology and address global development problems. It also explores the possibility that the Internet as well as mobile and digital technology can help government and other non-governmental organisations to boost shared prosperity in order to end extreme poverty.
What are the digital dividends? Growth, jobs and services are the most important returns on digital investments. Most of us, especially the youths, have continued to witness significant growth in jobs, startups, competencies and opportunities. In spite of limited government support and resources invested, many African youths have continued to push the boundaries of unemployment and education limitations.
Connecting everyone on the Internet remains one of the most daring targets of the recently approved Sustainable Development Goals. This requires the balance of competitive market players, youthful and innovative workforce, public-private partnerships and regulation of the Internet and telecoms sector.
According to the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Young Kim, the greatest rise of information and communications in history will not be truly revolutionary until it beneﬁts everyone in every part of the world, especially the poorest regions.
Poverty and digital divide
Despite the wide-spread impacts of digital technology, the report concludes that lives of the majority of the world’s people remain largely untouched. Only around 15 per cent can afford access to broadband Internet. In fact, nearly two billion people do not own mobile phones while about 60 per cent of the world’s population lack access to the Internet. This is the part of the statistics and information that hardly trend online.
Analog components drive digital growth
So, while digital technologies have been spreading, digital dividends have not. Nearly 60 per cent of the world’s people are still ofﬂine, with a large chunk of this population in Africa. As the key to Africa’s growth continues to shift from oil to other sources, access to mobile and digital technologies has the potential to turn Africa’s army of youths into incredible human assets.
Business professionals, tech enthusiasts and other entrepreneurs in Africa will agree with me that the rise of the Internet on the continent is backed by a strong analog and, if you like, off-line components. Jason Njorku, founder of Iroko TV, has to comb the streets of Alaba to sign its first set of movie producers. Mark Essien, founder of Hotels.ng, had to create a manual system of verifying and booking hotels behind the niceties of its online booking portal to achieve reasonable success.
From problems to opportunities
When people call Africa the final frontier, it is mainly because of three things. They are its virgin opportunities, youthful drive and population. The potential for Africa to leverage digital tool and opportunities in the next decade is very high, especially if three analog components are attended to. First, we need to consider the opportunity cost of not undertaking the necessary reforms. While there is a massive celebration of countries that are empowering their citizens especially with the introduction of technology, more pressure is mounted on African nations to adopt global practices. Another thing is to ensure that digital technology is used to make systems of government more functional.
There is a massive inflow of funding to digital start-ups. While Apple was launching its payment platform, ApplePay, Kenya was already doing well in mobile money transactions. The simple technology powering MPESA has ensured that banking solutions extend to remote parts of Kenya.
Once you can discover how technology can simplify a business or government process, you already have a business idea. Once you have been able to understand how technology powers business processes abroad, you already have an idea you can work with.