This month, Nigerian serial entrepreneur Nkemdilim Begho, founder of specialist IT company FutureSoft and co-founder of children’s accessory brand AlwaysMe by Ann Li, had the honour of speaking in Brussels at a high level European Commission conference. The event, which sought to tackle issues around Job Creation, Growth and Competitiveness in West Africa, attracted 300 high-level representatives from the European Commission, Regional Organisations (ECOWAS and WAEMU), Regional Development Banks, National Authorities at Ministerial level, financial Institutions and private sector stakeholders.
The conference took as its focus the various pillars of job creation; education / capacity development, economic empowerment of entrepreneurs through training and funding, policy, investments / access to finance, and technology. The conference consisted of various panels with the overarching focus on job creation. Nkemdilim Begho participated in the specialist technology panel alongside Olavo Correia, Vice President and Finance Minister, Cabo Verde; Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, European Commission; Arancha González, Executive Director, International Trade Center; and Fily Bouare Sissoko, Commissioner for Enterprise Development, Energy, Telecommunications andTourism. The conference focused its attention on Africa and the 4th Industrial Revolution and how technology can leapfrog Africa into the 21st century.
Even though it was the final panel discussion for the day at the event, the room was full as attendees eagerly anticipated what the experts had to say. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, European Commission set the stage with her keynote address that focused on the digitalisation of Africa with the core focus of creating more jobs. She highlighted cutting edge technologies such as IoT, Blockchain, AR, VR and AI as some of the key drivers of the digitalisation. The moderator took over and gave a brief presentation that gave a good overview of the current state of tech in West Africa. The panel was very interesting because each panelist had a different background and was able to focus on the role their sector plays in the advancement of technology in West Africa. Nkemdelim Begho’s core focus and contribution was on discussing the importance of a national and pan-African technology, digitalisation and innovation driven strategy that must be developed in order to ensure that all national / pan-African development is driven by technology and to ensure Africans have full ownership of their technology, data and infrastructure.
Key points made during the panel discussion:
1. African countries need a future proof national / continental strategy that is driven by innovation, technology and digitalization and forms the cornerstone of all economic development plans and policies.
2. Policy Makers need to educate themselves and ensure that they are able to actively engage in the discussions that are currently going on. They must furthermore embrace disruption instead of being afraid of it. Without disruptive technologies we will not be able to survive in the 4th industrial revolution.
3. We need a Ministry of Innovation & Digitalization that drives the 4th Industrial Revolution in Africa and is lead by a young Minister from the tech industry. All technology acquisitions, deals and developments should be vetted by this ministry to ensure complete alignment with the above-mentioned national strategy.
4. Our educational systems need to be reformed — making technology and innovation the cornerstone of learning and not just another subject. Without a skilled digital workforce we will not only depend on the West, but also remain in poverty. We must use technology to create enabling environments and teach practical skills. Virtual reality offers a huge potential to teaching practical skills without heavy investment in infrastructure / labs or equipment. Online learning environments and content from both the educational sector and the private sector are key. Heavy investments in Research and Development facilities are key. We must also ensure that lecturers are fit for purpose. Any lecturer who cannot produce digital lecture notes should not be teaching or must be up skilled with a matter of urgency.
5. Policy makers must create policies that accelerate the growth of the tech and tech driven economic ecosystem and spur digitalization, not hamper it. Our aim should be to scale existing tech and tech driven businesses to create more jobs. Part of these policies should focus on tax breaks, elimination of additional charges / unnecessary license fees, establishment of minority bids for Government procurement, provision of infrastructure through tech hubs / innovation centres, support of locally made technology solutions, grants etc.
6. Local Investors need to be encouraged to invest in locally created technologies, tech and driven companies. They must also be educated on disruptive technologies and the potentials in order to ensure that local Investors revise their investment strategy in line with the above-mentioned national strategy.
7. Government must engage the local tech ecosystem and work hand in hand to create a digitalization plan that is sustainable and most importantly future proof. Private Public Partnerships will be required to leapfrog our nation into the future.
8. We must set up think tanks and research groups that study and research new cutting edge technologies and see how we can localize them, align them with our own cultural values, and seamlessly integrate them into our society. Africa must exploit the comparative advantage of her Diaspora Tech Knowledge resources as a fundamental strategy and imperative to accomplish the accelerated and sustainable delivery of the promise of the 4th Industrial revolution and global competitiveness.
9. We must find ways of leveraging existing technologies in unconventional and innovative ways in both the public and private sector.
10. We must ensure women and youth inclusive policies are made to ensure that women and youth exploit and fully embrace technology and the opportunities it brings.