Being present in the new world

In 2016, I was very intrigued by a conversation I had the privilege to have in a room of people, including Noah Glass – one of the co-founders of twitter. What was impressive was that yes, Noah Glass co-founded Twitter, but more so, that he founded Olo, a food delivery interface which was on the precipice of changing the restaurant and food delivery system as we knew it. Even more impressive, and absolutely mind boggling, was that the ideation for Olo started in South Africa.

There I was in a room, in a high-rise building, on Wall street New York City, filled with passionate young South Africans, with excellent track records in education, entrepreneurship, leadership and development, and none of us had the foresight or access to ideate such a platform, at the time. This, truthfully, was because none of us could.

The problem was not with us, it was our deep marginalization from the virality of technology i.e. the internet, in the era of Facebook and Instagram. In 2016, we were still at level 1; creating Facebook accounts and YouTube channels while the rest of the world had moved on to changing the nature of the food industry by smartphones. We were behind, and a more devastating realization today, is that the majority of South African youth are still very much behind because of lack of access – even with 20 million smartphone users in the country.

Fast forward to 2021. Two weeks ago, I was in another engagement in Melrose Johannesburg about increasing access to technology in Africa with a handful of influential Africans, among them was Kola Alojide, founder of BridgeLabs, Baratang Miya CEO of Girlhype and Zuko Tisani founder of Legazy. What was equally fortunate and unfortunate was that our engagement was on how to increase access to tech and evolve tech ideation in Africa, for young Africans to gain access into the market. This was fortunate because it is about time, and what was unfortunate was that this was happening about 6 years after I had my first engagement about changing the world through tech in the US. 

The reality of the matter is that we are falling behind – to no fault of ours, because we have a complex history and a disheartening relationship with marginalization, but this also presents an opportunity.

In this brave new world of digitization, AI and technovation, what I am realizing is that there is ample opportunity to disrupt. Businesses like Shoprite have done exactly this by introducing simple applications like cash deposits into their retail businesses model, where customers are now able to perform small banking transactions at the till. Shoprite, a food retailer, has disrupted its own model and onboarded a product from the banking industry in response to consumer demands today.

New generation African innovators like Tisani, and Alojide are also developing technologies and platforms that transform the way that we have known the world; the way we do business, and are responsive to the present climate and resilient for future possibilities. Tisani’s conferencing technology is ever necessary in a climate like Covid-19, where we don’t have much opportunity to physically pitch our ideas and have personal engagements about our businesses in the start-up stream, when it is most necessary to build our businesses. That is the nature of tech and its opportunities when appropriately utilized.

With that said, in a context like Africa, where we have great challenges in terms of accessibility, the chance to innovate is often limited. In the case of South Africa, a great majority are not even aware of the opportunities that come with digitization, despite the fact that we are living in a country with about 20 – 22 million smartphone owners in the country. It is therefore important for Business and Governance to make healthy investments into increasing access to technology for Africans old and young – Imagine the possibilities in infrastructure and agriculture for Africans, once our people gain a deeper sense of how to become competitive in a market like today’s – a market that is also challenged by Covid-19.

It is time for us to become present in our new world. And with that said, we must create pathways to bridge an old and a new world while being forward looking. Businesses need to realize that the solution is to upskill their people to bridge the gap and create pathways for development. Government should get on board to realize that its servicing for a different future, and invest in technologies, and skill training that is forward looking and responsive to the current economic climate.

It is important for our people to gain access to information and training about the nature of the world today. This gives us the opportunity for our people to innovate for our contexts, and with that, create solutions that make us proactive in our own market, primarily, then lending those solutions internationally. Mentoring and training our young people into industry will create just the right opportunity to disrupt it, innovate it and change the world to our favor.

About the author:

Sibongile Khumalo is a creative entrepreneur and professional in the banking sector. She is currently pursuing her Doctoral degree with the University of the Western Cape.

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