The digital age is irrevocably changing our world. It’s astounding to consider that we are limited only by our imaginations in terms of where technological innovation can take us and how it can be applied to uplift communities and ultimately impact every aspect of our environment, for the better.
That said, in order for technology and innovation to have an optimal impact, it should seamlessly integrate with the current behaviours and capabilities of its markets, believes Warren Hero, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft. “Every part of human endeavour can be enhanced by technology,” he insists.
It starts with the youth
While technology can be applied absolutely everywhere to enable people to live better lives, education and skills development is a good place to start. “Technology allows us to improve skills and build capacity without having to go anywhere, all you need is the most basic connectivity offered by an entry level feature phone,” says Hero. He says that because people learn through all of their senses, technology can offer a ‘blended learning’ experience as a means of skills development – in the classroom, online, through podcasts and audio books.
Zinhle Modiselle, General Manager for Marketing and Communication at Business Connexion explains that the company also has a vested interest in using technology to further education amongst the youth. “The youth of today are naturally technologically minded, which allows us to engage with them in a space where they feel comfortable,” she points out. She adds that technological innovation has a major role to play in the development of the economy and communication on the African continent.
“Technology is so important when it comes to bridging the digital divide and providing communities with access to information, better means of communication and ultimately a better quality of life. The youth is the best place to begin this journey,” she continues.
“Through its work with South Africa’s youth, Business Connexion aims to create a pipeline for the industry,” adds CSI Manager Arnold Beyleveld.
Bringing back a sense of community
“At the most basic level, computers and technology have increased our capacity for communication at speed and over distance,” believes David Kramer, CEO at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre. He adds that it has provided a terrain of opportunity for people who previously did not have access to such information and points out that in most cases; uptake of technology is always quickest amongst youth groups.
Technology and innovation is used to uplift communities and in so doing, has redefined the meaning of community and brought back an important sense of culture amongst different groups. For Hero, it has enhanced the ability to share ideas and help communities to retain their identities. “Every community has its own story. Technology has given us the ability to digitise these stories so that they don’t get lost in the digital age, whilst at the same time embellishing the new digital culture,” he enthuses.
Indeed, in a world where there is often too much sameness, a renewed sense of culture enables people to bring a different perspective to the table and to add value, strength and sustainability through diversity.
Kramer maintains that modern technology has allowed people to foster a sense of community without having to be physically present. It allows for the sharing of knowledge and resources over distance and allows communities to form bonds once again. “From Gumtree to neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, our sense of what comprises a community is no longer restricted by geography or common features. It has revolutionised the interaction between people. To this end, empowerment is an inherent part of the process, as people learn the power that technology gives them to change their worlds,” says Kramer.
Entrepreneurialism will drive the economy forward
With entrepreneurship earmarked as a powerful means of driving economic growth in the country, Microsoft has invested in the creation of 1 577 small businesses through its Biz Spark programme. “Small business owners are given access to mentors who share knowledge with them in the areas they need to develop. Access to technology means that they don’t have to go and study an MBA, but can learn and engage with people who have these qualifications and are willing to share their knowledge and processes,” Hero explains.
Research has revealed that SMME’s that have access to the relevant technology are two to three times more successful than those that don’t. To this end, Microsoft provides the businesses on the programme with free technology. “Think about the economics of using Cloud technology as opposed to purchasing technology on site. With the Cloud, you pay only for what you use, which reduces the drain on cash flow and allows a small business the same buying power as a much larger company. While the risk of failure is a huge deterrent for many would-be entrepreneurs, the right technology helps to improve the viability and sustainability of start-up business ventures,” says Hero.
Collaboration is the way forward
Increasingly, technology is becoming the way of the future. Through concepts such as the Internet of Things (IoT) technology is set to become a way of life for communities across the board – providing them with a way to educate their children, implement healthcare systems and innovate in the work place. Current trends around big data and analytics, smart cities and artificial intelligence, point to the fact that the interface between technology and people will soon become so pervasive that it will be difficult to separate the two.
“No single entity can solve the problems of the continent alone,” believes Modiselle. She points out that it is Business Connexion’s ultimate objective to empower communities to produce solutions that will solve real problems. “The aim is to bring together thought leaders, businesses, government and communities to look at solutions that will address the issues facing the African continent – water shortages, healthcare, education and the like. The answer lies in using technology to become a creator of solutions, instead of importing ready-made solutions and trying to make them relevant to our issues,” she maintains.
If there is one key to ensuring that technological innovation can be used to its best advantage and have maximum impact to help communities across the board in every sector, it is collaboration. Collaboration will enable a concerted and consistent approach to solving the country’s bread and butter issues and to building the capacity required for us to become a nation able to create solutions to solve its own problems.
South Africa is a nation divided. One the one hand, we are on a par with the rest of the world when it comes to the development and application of technological innovations. The investment made by global players into the country shows the existence of true potential. That said, the disparity between the educated sector of the population and those in rural areas remains a very real challenge. “Collaboration between the private and public sector will ultimately be the key that allows every South African to have the same experience of education and healthcare and bridge the digital divide so that every child can become a part of the global village that has been created through technology. The more platforms that come together from different parts of society, the more access we will have to the critical thinking that will enable us to move forward as a continent,” Modiselle concludes.