November 5, 2012

Africa: The Next Digital Frontier


Technology is going to be the largest ever driver of social and economic development in Africa. We are currently seeing an unprecedented evolution in technology and its penetration on this continent with no signs of slowing down. In just a couple of years, low cost mobile hardware and bandwidth will have penetrated a vast number of Africans, unlocking the potential in Africa’s billion people by connecting them to the rest of the world.

The greatest number of educational, civic, social and economic gaps are going to be closed by finding and solving the unique challenges of locals empowered with the right technology. More than anything, this newfound interconnectedness will stimulate personal and societal growth by combining the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people in a single platform. Social media adoption has already become ubiquitous to those already connected, and there is no reason that Africa will not follow suit when they get the chance. Africans are a unique breed, being very social, multicultural and deep-rooted in a history as long as it is diverse. The ability to create and share multimedia content through social media will not only educate the rest of the world as to what Africa is really about, but also serve to bind and connect Africa’s micro-communities in ways never before possible.

There are many hardships and challenges that need to be overcome. Widespread famine, poverty, crime and war are rife on the continent. However, where some see danger and despair, I see the biggest opportunities to change communities and make a positive impact on people’s lives. This isn’t just altruistic charity work – these opportunities can be balanced with the financial returns necessary. Needs can be met in a sustainable way that improves lives and makes money at the same time. Profitability is always going to be a necessary precursor to maintain continuous offshore investment. African needs are in many ways billion dollar problems, but investing money will never be a solution in itself unless it is invested in an intelligent manner that digs deep into the heart of the problems. And one must never discount the effect that micro-businesses and SMEs would have in their communities when harnessing the right technology to solve their problems and streamline their businesses. However, I see profits as more of a side-effect than a goal – if real human needs are being met then profitability occurs naturally.

The only way positive change can realistically happen in spite of existing challenges is if all relevant stakeholders play their important roles. Big business needs to work closely with government to ensure the infrastructural pipes are laid out and readily accessible to the people. Small business and entrepreneurs need support from big business and government to catalyse the infrastructure with niche solutions that the latter cannot address. Africa’s impressive entrepreneurial drive has to be nurtured and grown through venture capital investment, appropriate business education and business incubator programs and resources. I already see this happening in key economic hubs in the continent, and cannot wait to see where the next billion dollar African company will come from.

As the world becomes more hyper-local and realtime, the mobile phone is going to be the enabler and conduit through which social and local opportunities are unlocked. I see a world where we do not even see devices or the Internet as separate things, but as natural extensions to ourselves that permeate our very existence. Localized and personalized streams of information will be available on-tap to not only educate and empower, but to allow every person better understand themselves, the world around them and assist them to find their optimal path in life. The information revolution is on the same scale as the industrial one, if not a magnitude or two greater in impact. I feel extremely grateful to be living in this time, and to have been given the opportunities to make a real change in the world. Still being a realist, I don’t think the human experience will ever be a completely “happy” one, but I do believe the magnitude of human suffering will be drastically reduced in this century. People will focus less on the bottom line and hoarding material possessions, and more on personal empowerment and inspiration, memorable experiences and a greater appreciation of their relationships and communities. As Maslow once said, self-actualization occurs once basic human needs are met, and I think technology will help solve humanity’s needs across this pyramid.

One may ask where to even begin making a change. In many ways, I see the upcoming societal shift as a sort of chemical reaction. There are catalysts, inputs, outputs and by-products which are all part of the greater whole, but overall there is no single controller and it essentially ends up happening autonomously. Change will happen whether we are prepared for it or not and whether we want it or not. We can, however, influence this change to a varying degree through the catalysts and inputs we provide. I believe the two largest catalysts are education and – for a lack of a better word – love. Love can be defined here as the intangible human component that inspires people to do great things and connects them to the greater whole. If someone is put in a loving nurturing environment like this, and empowered with the tools and processes facilitating their awareness and education, they are fast-tracked on the path to self-actualization.

In the past few years I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the country’s most intelligent and influential people. These thought leaders and change agents have inspired and educated me to become a better person and have changed my mindset to one of selflessness and abundance. I think the earth has more than enough resources to sustain us if we are aware of the environmental and societal impact of our actions. I think we are well on our way to being united and inspired through our differences instead of divided by them. I also believe that Africa’s toughest problems will be solved starting with the grassroots of its smallest communities. I’d like to reach out to the entrepreneurs and business leaders reading this – hopefully this has inspired you to at the very least contemplate Africa’s opportunities in greater depth. Let’s work together and do something amazing; since we are at the privileged forefront of humanity we are almost compelled to get involved and start making a difference.

Michal Wronski
3 November, 2012

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