Is Africa Ready?
The COVID-19 pandemic has put governments all over the world in a state of extreme uncertainty, forcing them to make severe trade-offs in order to address the health, economic, and social issues it brings. The past year is a glimpse of how the intersection of social, economic, political, and health issues will shape our collective futures and for today’s digital economy another phenomenon is taking place, one that will certainly remain a constant – Digital Transformation.
In this here “New Normal”, a reality that is well understood and recognised among leaders in the majority of the world's major sectors, is how digital transformation is both disrupting and challenging every known business model. Digitalisation offers limitless opportunities for economies to create additional value and citizens, policymakers, society, and governments are all becoming more connected as a result of it.
You've probably heard about the 4th industrial revolution. Businesses, thought leaders, policymakers, scientists, and, of course, technocrats are all talking about it.
The term was coined by Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, who wrote: "The first industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production. The second used electric power to create the mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a fourth industrial revolution is building on the third, a digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres."
The digital age has brought about a new way of thinking around processes and operations. Such that the millennial enterprise CEO priorities, have become about innovation, speed to market, public trust and human capital which all lead to initiatives around digital and data-driven business.
WHAT IS DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION?
The term "digital transformation" is still generally misunderstood. For example, technology is just that, technical know-how or software or hardware features, however it is important to the success of an adaptable digital transformation strategy.
Digital transformation (DX) is the process of integrating digital technology into every aspect of an organisation for operational efficiencies and enable future-proofing. It is a process where businesses leverage exponential digital competences to evolve their business models and ecosystems, to modernise legacy systems, to automate and optimise internal operations and communication, to develop innovative customer-centric products and services.
Key success factors to this business imperative, all centre around the ease of implementation, smooth transition, and expert project management. In order to survive in this very competitive market-place the utilisation of design thinking capabilities is crucial. It is critical that a digital transformation process is applied end-to-end and not in a piecemeal fashion. For example, a visually appealing digital customer acquisition front-end with a manual or semi-manual back-end process or vice-versa will never produce the required business results.
The theory of evolution inferred that life is all about the survival of the fittest, and in a post-covid reality this certainly holds true for global markets. The economies that are very responsive to this current wave of change are the ones who will survive and stay ahead of the curve and this fact holds true in the case of digital transformation.
Deloitte Africa’s Digital Transformation Strategy Leader, Heidi Custers, says “Digital Transformation is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s critical to the survival of your business. The economy is under extreme pressure, and choice for businesses is stark: close shop or invest in large scale digital transformation.”
So what about Africa? Have we as a continent embraced DX? What are some of the latest trends?
Truth be told, the pandemic has truly been an equaliser of sorts, and as Africa plots a path to recovery in what the World Economic Forum has termed the “great reset”, the continent is strongly positioned to do so in one important respect: 60% of the population is under the age of 25, THIS is a sector that more likely to and in many respects already has embraced digital technologies. This is a peak into which careers will become most in demand post-pandemic and but more importantly, also a glaring opportunity for African companies to embrace. In fact - Microsoft has even started a project to help 25 million people worldwide to acquire new skills for a post COVID-19 economy.
Much as the African landscape is just as varied as its inhabitants, embracing digital transformation in this way, is a chance for Africa to build a new social contract and to shift the focus from managing short-term pressures to focusing on the longer-term sustainability.
THE CASE FOR SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION.
Africa remains the only continent whose digital gender gap has widened since 2013. Meeting the vision of digital transformation across the African continent, where women are leaders in innovation, tech and industry is still a long way from being realised. In reference to the United Nations SDG 5 (Sustainable Development Goals), the fact that women have been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, serves as a stark reminder that they are also the backbone of recovery in communities, as such re-enforcing the need for a coordinated strategy in ensuring the inclusion of women and girls in the continent’s digital transformation.
The presence of women is evident in the informal economy which constitutes between 60% and 80% of Africa’s total economic activity. According to the International Labour Organisation, about 84% of female non-agricultural workers in Sub-Saharan Africa work in the informal economy compared with 63% of male non-agricultural workers.
READY STEADY: WHATS THE WAY FORWARD?
August is women’s month in South Africa, and this article is a tribute to women and how their participation and adoption of Digital Transformation will play a major role in Africa’s growth and sustainable development.
“From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge.” is this years’ International Women’s Day 2021 (IWD2021) theme with the hashtag #ChooseToChallenge. I therefore chose to challenge the digital gender gap status quo. Africa remains the only continent whose digital and technology gender gap has widened since 2013. Meeting the vision of digital transformation across the African continent, where women are leaders in innovation, tech and industry is still a long way from being realised. This is the time for African female entrepreneurs to re-think their business strategy and offerings so that their business models are agile enough to adapt to the digital transformation and the business landscape post covid-19.
My vision is to develop a coordinated strategy in ensuring the inclusion of females in the continent’s digital transformation agenda, to contribute towards triggering a new wave of innovation from women in technology and innovation. My role is make sure women are at the forefront of these conversations. Why?
In 2015, world leaders pledged to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ by 2030, as part of the SDGs. It is crucial that African women are seen adopting digital technologies and triggering a new wave of innovation that is preparing women for a digital future.
Women in Africa are more likely than men to be entrepreneurs, and a recent World Bank report, Profiting from Parity, has shown that women entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa continue to earn lower profits than men (34 % less on average).
What’s interesting to note though, is that for these women entrepreneurship is not so much a choice as it is a necessity, however I see this as huge opportunity to unlocking their potential, which can in fact make an even bigger contribution to our growth and prosperity. While the pandemic has been a human health and economic tragedy, has also been an accelerator for digital transformation and the window of opportunity offered by e-commerce is widening. As such. “Empowering women entrepreneurs is simply smart economics.”
Bearing in mind that empowered women make significant contributions to leadership, job creation, economic growth and poverty alleviation around the world. Essentially, when women are self-sufficient there’s a ripple positive effect on health, education and economies because of their purchasing power.
For Africa to fully reap the benefits of digital transformation, we need to give women equal access to the opportunities, skills and tools afforded by modern technology.
According to McKinsey, the female economy is the world’s largest emerging market, with the potential to add trillion to global GDP by 2025. Investing in digital skills and entrepreneurship training for African women is investing in economic growth and social impact at the community, country and continental level.
This is an opportunity for leaders who have a vision and are not afraid to disrupt, challenge the status quo and seek to look at problems in new ways with the resources available in the 21st Century.
In this dynamic and disrupted time, where African economies are becoming increasingly dependent on their ability to embrace and harness new technologies, I encourage women across the continent to use this time to add new skills to your arsenal. Actively look for opportunities to grow within the digital transformation space and find tools designed to help you future proof your career and businesses to help you stay ahead of the curve. It’s time for us to unlearn and re-skill ourselves.
Digital Queens, your time is now!
About the writer
Farai Mutiwanyuka – Founder & CEO - Sprouting Tree Group (STG)
IDBS Digital Transformation Fellow.
STG is currently working on projects to develop a coordinated strategy in ensuring the inclusion of females in the continent’s digital transformation agenda, to contribute towards triggering a new wave of innovation from women in digital. Projects that will help shape our voice to contribute towards influencing and shaping policy around this.
Our business is not just about transforming our clients’ businesses physically; it is about convincing and transforming our clients and prospects’ mindsets about the fact that digital is the future, and that it is the only way to future-proof their brands and position them for growth and expansion. As a result, more frequently than not, we find ourselves crossing-over into the change management space.
LinkedIn: Farai Mutiwanyuka.
Instagram: @phari_africa and