Growing mobile and internet penetration on the African continent has given rise to new solution-oriented tech-based businesses. With this growth, there is undoubtedly more value added in creating new market niches and in making already-existing markets and processes more effective and efficient.
Last month, the Amahoro Coalition hosted an executive roundtable on “The Future of Tech-Enabled Products and Services” with a focus on how inclusion is reshaping the way tech-enabled products & services are structured, provisioned, and consumed, in Africa. Here are some of the key takeaways from the discussion:
TECHNOLOGY GIVES US VISIBILITY INTO A SEGMENT OF SOCIETY THAT WAS PREVIOUSLY INVISIBLE AND ALLOWS US TO INTERACT WITH PEOPLE IN A WAY THAT SUITS THEIR LIFESTYLES.
One of the panelists highlighted the great impact of tech products such as mobile money which has opened up underexplored markets such as the informal economy, which is a highly subdivided area in itself. Taking advantage of technologies such as data mining, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, service providers are able to build tailored products and services that cater to the specific needs of the communities they target.
“Look at how big the mobile money market is, and how big unsecured credit is against just your data, today. We’re using technology to roll out pensions to the informal economy from market women to the diaspora to save for themselves for retirement. And without technology, this could not have been possible some time ago.”
THE INFORMAL ECONOMY IS MUCH BIGGER THAN THE FORMAL ECONOMY, AND TECHNOLOGY CAN BE LEVERAGED TO ENTER, OPERATE, AND CREATE PRODUCTS FOR INFORMAL ECONOMIES.
Sub-saharan Africa currently has over 90% of its working population in the informal economy. Innovation through digital technology has a transformative impact on the informal economy. One of the participants highlighted that in the pensions industry, technology has enabled a quicker rollout of tech-enabled services to “mama mbogas” contributing to the building of a saving culture in the communities they operate in.
“I believe that the informal economy is much bigger than the formal economy. And so technology is helping us reach out to that segment and build specific products and services suitable to these informal markets.”
Without technology, this could not have been possible some time ago. It is therefore important to recognize this market and develop tech-enabled products that provide solutions to the unique nature surrounding the informal economy.
THE SUCCESS OF TECH-ENABLED PRODUCTS AND SERVICES IS ACHIEVED BY CENTERING THE CUSTOMER.
Focusing on the customer or community you plan on serving has a significant impact on the uptake and use of the tech-enabled products and services. People like to use tech that they trust and know, and is therefore important to be customer-centric. Factors such as accessibility of products to the mass market, the reliability of the technology, and its downturns affect the confidence of customers that want to onboard. One of the participants highlighted that centering the customer also means innovatively deploying the solutions for a quicker uptake as well as ensuring a short and straightforward onboarding process that motivates the users to interact with your product.
INCLUSIVE TECH-ENABLED PRODUCTS AND SERVICES ACCELERATE THE RATE AT WHICH SOLUTIONS ARE DELIVERED TO PEOPLE.
It is important to design products that speak to underserved communities and their specific needs. In order to achieve this, there needs to be a critical shift from the status quo where technology is designed by a privileged few and then imposed on the disenfranchised. Instead, the target community needs to be involved in the design processes for tech-based solutions that impact their lives. One of the panelists highlighted how they are taking advantage of technology and the global village phenomenon to create and advocate for employment and livelihood opportunities among the youth in Kenya
“In our work, we primarily focus on looking at how the digital economy can support the advancement of job creation for young people. Even as we talk about inclusion, there is a whole lay around usage, access, etc. that will require a certain level of skills, awareness, and literacy and we are building a whole portfolio of capabilities across our key ecosystem actors; be it the platform providers or solution providers, private sector companies, young people as consumers and users of the technology across the country.”
ENHANCING YOUTH EDUCATION IN TECHNOLOGY
The African continent has lagged behind in previous industrial revolutions, however, recent improvements in the continent’s ICT sector, the rapidly growing educated labor force, advancement in infrastructure, and skills for innovation and technology use, all represent a massive upward growth opportunity for the continent. One of the panelists pointed out that:
“The post covid period exposed the lack of local manufacturing on the continent and the fact that we were so heavily dependent on importation. When you look at how young the African continent is, are we creating enough jobs for the young people? There’s a skills mismatch where the education system is not training for the industry. For instance, in the agricultural sector, how do we move from basic subsistence farming to light-scale mechanized farming, where a lot of the opportunities will be?
There is therefore a real urgency to close the skills gap in education and leapfrog Africa further into the digital era using both technology and education.
We would like to thank our moderator and panelists Dr. William Derban, Constance Swaniker, Fatima Alimohamed, Dr. Ehud Gachugu, Abraham Kimei, Saqib Nazir, and Sam Baddoo for their insightful contributions to this discussion.