Digital Skills are Africa’s Ticket to Prosperity

Cathy Smith attributes much of her success to her background in coding. The first female leader for Africa at SAP, over the course of her 30-year career she has helped brands like IBM and Cisco develop and execute their transformation strategies.

“I have had an amazing journey, but what strikes me lately, is how my early coding days helped to prepare me for leadership. Coding taught me how to think logically, how to test my thinking, how to listen, how to be creative, how to be – all those skills are critical in my role as a leader.”

Smith firmly believes these same skills are exactly what Africa needs to prepare for, and engage with, the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). “For us as a business in Africa, the fourth industrial revolution represents the impact that technologies such as , Internet of things and blockchain will have on society, and how we can harness their power to accelerate economic growth, innovation, development and human wellbeing.”

When applied correctly, with the support of the appropriate skills, these technologies can solve a broad range of socio-economic challenges, like healthcare access or service delivery issues.

“In my mind, it is impossible to speak of 4IR without addressing the question of digital skills and entrepreneurship, especially in the context of Africa. They are instrumental to our collective success in a 4IR future,” notes Smith.

Africa is home to around 700 million young people and less than 1% graduate from school with even basic coding knowledge. Rectifying this problem will take collective effort from governments, big businesses, NGOs and civil society; everyone working together to equip our youth with the digital skills they need to participate in the 4IR economy, she explains.

As a business, it’s vital to work directly with partners and customers to ensure youngsters going into industry today have work-ready skills, continues Smith.

But simply throwing technology at the problem is not the answer, she asserts. “To use technology as an enabler of financial inclusion, it’s critical that the systems are simple and reliable and that the users have every confidence that electronic transactions are secure and money will end up in the right hands. Technology is the answer to financial inclusion, but it must be coupled with a fresh mindset – not only for consumers but also for traditional financial institutions.”

Opportunities for all

According to Smith, once Africa has these skills, the opportunities are endless. For example, drone technology offers some golden opportunities for our continent. Consider the fact that much of Africa lacks the same road and rail infrastructure as our more developed peers.

One day, we could see drones being used to deliver vital resources to areas that were previously inaccessible. We’ve already seen how combining drones with advanced analytics can assist in the fight against poaching and protect our endangered wildlife, notes Smith.

In line with this, technology also holds the key to address the continent-wide financial inclusion conundrum, which has seen low-income earners being excluded from mainstream financial services, says Smith.

But simply throwing technology at the problem is not the answer, she asserts. “To use technology as an enabler of financial inclusion, it’s critical that the systems are simple and reliable and that the users have every confidence that electronic transactions are secure and money will end up in the right hands. Technology is the answer to financial inclusion, but it must be coupled with a fresh mindset – not only for consumers but also for traditional financial institutions.”