South Africa has the potential to leverage its large youth population, along with emerging technologies, to become a leader in both BRICS countries and even globally.
The recent BRICS Business Council conference held in South Africa analysed the opportunities and challenges facing emerging economies and focused on collaborative efforts by the countries that make up BRICS. Among the key areas identified for future focus were the issue of youth and fostering entrepreneurship; the Digital Economy and skills development for the Fourth Industrial Revolution; as well as agriculture and food security.
Looking at the first of these, Nicol Mullins, Principal Consultant at Mercer South Africa, says there is no doubt that we need to seriously look at how we build a thriving workforce for the future. It is important, he suggests, to encourage innovation, which comes with risk taking, and cultivate a lab mind-set for experimentation in order to capture growth opportunities.
“South Africa, like the rest of the continent, has an enormous resource in its large youth population, which provides us a competitive advantage over other countries around the world. We need to leverage what the youth can offer, such as their greater knowledge and intuitive understanding of technology, but at the same time, this must be done in partnership with the older generations, that have greater experience and understanding of the industry. It is about working together to create win-win opportunities to benefit us all,” he says.
“As a collective, the BRICS nations can look into fostering exchange programmes that promote capacity building and know-how transfer across borders, not only in a BRICS context, but in Africa as well, in order to enable our collective youth to move forward rapidly. At the same time, it is important for the youth to play their part in delivering on the BRICS vision – to make the partnership a successful and vibrant one.”
Vino Govender, Acting CSO at Dark Fibre Africa, adds that from a digital economy perspective, something that is expected to unlock unprecedented potential to build seamless digital ecosystems is the arrival of Fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks. These, he explains, will connect everything around us to a network that is 100 times faster than traditional cellular connections and at least 10 times faster than the speediest home-broadband service. Inevitably, this will completely reshape the way people live, work and interact.
“Such speeds are becoming increasingly necessary when one considers that data generated by smart phones and tablets is currently growing at a rate of between 20% and 40% per year across developed markets. Now think what the combination of speed, responsiveness and reach that 5G promises will offer to the BRICS nations – it will unlock the full capabilities of hot trends like self-driving cars and virtual reality. More crucially, however, it will have a significant impact on critical areas like healthcare, by enabling effective remote surgery, and environmental management via drones, to name just two,” states Govender.
“Remember that a fibre network does not have to deal with spectrum constraints, as wireless networks do. This means that, even though contention might be applied, the speeds achieved by end-users will be much higher than existing wireless networks. This is exactly what is required when handling the kind of rich media already described, and which will become the norm once 5G arrives.”
Coming off the back of the higher speeds generated by 5G, Morne Bekker, NetApp South African country manager explains that, we can not only expect a vast increase in the amount of data being transported and captured by enterprises, but also a greater desire to glean as much information and knowledge from this data as possible.
“The fourth industrial revolution can be leveraged by the BRICS nations to take the lead in revolutionising technology. A key tool in the arsenal here is data and analytics, backed by artificial intelligence (AI). It is important to leverage these tools to support the digital growth, development and expansion of BRICS. Advances in AI, particularly machine learning, will be core to this type of digital transformation,” he says.
“Machines are excellent learners. By turning data into an asset, these systems promise to enable organisations to accelerate innovation and achieve superhuman performance – driving efficiencies, creating insights that personalise the customer experience, improving engagement and commerce, and aiding in new business development. From financial services to healthcare and manufacturing, AI is impacting digital transformations in virtually every industry. Therefore, by leveraging emerging technologies like this, BRICS can position itself to be a true leader in the digital economy.”
With a young, technologically-savvy population, a 5G network on the horizon and a strong focus on leveraging emerging technologies like AI and machine learning, South Africa has all the key elements required to become a leader, not only in the BRICS group, but globally. What is required then is simply the wherewithal to combine these factors in such a way as to work with our BRICS partners to foster our youth, tackle the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution head-on and in so doing, build a strong, self-sufficient digital economy.