Vodacom Business Chief Officer Vuyani Jarana believes that Africa’s burgeoning youthful population, rich resources and unexploited markets could fuel a continent-wide economic revival - driven by technological innovation. Speaking at a business briefing in Port Elizabeth today, Jarana illustrated the vast potential which the digital economy holds for both South Africa and the wider continent, particularly in the fields of education, health, agriculture and transport.
Many people are not even aware that we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution – the Digital Revolution – that has unprecedented consequences for every part of our lives as well as the economies which sustain us. Jarana says: “The digital economy is the single most important driver of innovation, competitiveness and growth and it holds huge potential for the African continent. The key for Africa is to adopt an innovative mind-set and focus on skills development to ensure that digital transformation opportunities can be seized by Africans. Africa must become a creator, and not just a consumer, of technology in order to promote inclusive transformation.”
Jarana says that we are in a world of new digital opportunity, with exponential possibilities fuelled by billions of people globally who are - and will increasingly be - connected through mobile devices. Locally, South Africa needs to take advantage of the unfolding digital economy to uplift its youth. According to Stats SA’s report ‘The Social Profile of Youth, 2009 – 2014’, released earlier this year, young people aged 15 to 34 continue to make up the largest proportion of the unemployed in South Africa. Jarana believes that as digital tools become more efficient in solving daily productivity problems and more adaptive to learned situations, we'll progress to a stage where digital tools can be deployed to solve some of society's greatest challenges, including widespread unemployment.
As the South African economy evolves digitally, new types of jobs are being created. It is critical that South Africa ensures it has the right skills to meet the demands of an increasingly sophisticated economy and to include more people in the digital agenda. “The time for Africa and South Africa in particular is now for embracing the digital economy to find African solutions for African problems. Many challenges need to be addressed in South Africa, however we need to remember that we are not operating in isolation, but rather as part of a global economy. Technology has moved beyond being an enabler to being a force for social good. For example, quality healthcare delivery across the continent is increasingly going to include digital mobility and mobile broadband.”
Jarana cites healthcare as an example of an industry being radically transformed by digital, to create a more sustainable quality healthcare model. Earlier this year, the National Department of Health and Vodacom successfully deployed a custom-built mobile application in over 3 000 clinics across South Africa to monitor drug stock levels and reduce drug stock-outs. “ICTs are going to play a crucial role in transforming industries such as healthcare. We need to focus on three areas: leveraging digital technologies, improving knowledge, skills and resources, and creating collaboration and consensus among key stakeholders.”
Although many African countries have experienced an economic downturn due to the commodities slump, Jarana believes the ‘Africa Tech Rising’ narrative still holds weight. Technology has allowed Africans to leapfrog from almost non-existent fixed lines to exponential mobile growth.
Jarana concludes: “South Africa is going to have to increase its investment in technology. The world is being driven by mobile today and we have to upskill young people. If we are too inward looking and only remain focused on fixing our own problems, we will get left behind. We need to remain competitive globally and South Africa must take advantage of the unfolding digital economy for its youth. Data and science skills are the new gold for industries.”