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How to build a digital Africa that is more inclusive and accessible

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The digital divide in Africa has generated considerable controversy. As they should be, access and skills are frequent topics of discussion because digital inclusion will surely have a substantial effect on the economy of Africa.

A digital economy provides numerous benefits. A significant one is fostering resilience during difficult times, such as an unanticipated pandemic or global recession.

In this article, we speak with industry experts and ask them what they think it means to build a more inclusive digital Africa.

Enable everyone to become an entrepreneur

“The pandemic has given us a chance to reset and to reimagine a more inclusive digital economy that promotes accessibility, and enables anyone to become an entrepreneur,” says Velma Corcoran, regional lead for the Middle East and Africa at Airbnb.

Corcoran  says that to drive a genuinely inclusive tourism economy, Airbnb is breaking down the barriers to becoming a tourism entrepreneur, investing in infrastructure that will allow people to connect to Airbnb’’s global network, creating their first-ever entrepreneurial education program with the University of Johannesburg, and reinvesting in the next generation to ensure anyone, anywhere, can benefit from tourism.

Strategic partnerships foster digital inclusion

The provision of technology plays a crucial role in upskilling people and improving digital access, says Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Zoho Africa. “Digital transformation will enable businesses to provide products and services at the enterprise level. We also need strategic partnerships that encourage  tech companies to partner with the government and other businesses to sponsor startups so that they have access to the technology that they need to grow and thrive.”

Include consumers into the financial system

Ricki Allardice, Head of Product at the cryptocurrency and micro-saving and investing app Upnup,  believes that “people are excluded from the financial system for two major reasons: they are not able to get access to credit or their incomes are unable to keep pace with inflation. It thus follows that the poor are largely financially excluded and will remain that way as long as inflation remains high and they are unable to upskill to become skilled labour.

“Even if they are able to save a meagre amount of money, inflation gobbles up their gains and puts them in a worse position than when they started, and as a result, there is an incentive to spend money rather than save it, because saving is futile in an environment where inflation is higher than interest rates.”

The belief is that Bitcoin has the ability to turn this on its head. With nobody on earth being able to change the rate at which Bitcoin is mined, the generation of new bitcoin follows a predetermined, predictable path. This means that the poor are able to save small amounts into Bitcoin and, if they hold for long enough, will see their purchasing power increase. This comes without the additional risk of having to invest their savings in a business, fund, or other investment. All they have to do is hold onto their bitcoin.

“Upnup sees Bitcoin as paving the way to financial inclusion because politics can be removed from the equation and users can simply save their labour in a money that respects their time: Bitcoin,” Allardice concludes.

Connecting African consumers to the global digital economy

The proliferation of technology has been largely dependent on the democratisation of these new and exciting innovations with the aim of achieving access for all. Similarly, the digitisation of  payments that would normally cost individuals and organisations time and money has become crucial for financial inclusion.

Recognising this, MFS Africa, a leading digital payments hub in Africa, works continuously with trusted global partners across the continent to connect African consumers to each other and to the global digital economy.

Whether you’re a young entrepreneur in the merchant marketplace, require access to collect loan repayments from customers, or need to send bulk payments, MFS Africa strives to continuously connect senders, recipients, and service providers across the continent. The organisation’s full-service digital payments network connects over 400 million mobile money wallets and over 200 million bank accounts across Africa, and over 200,000 agents in Nigeria, to enable cross-platform and cross-border payments for remittance companies, mobile network operators, banks, non-bank financial institutions, and global merchants.

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