Leading Africa into the 4th Industrial Revolution


Where do world leaders go to share innovative ideas and principles on how to lead Africa into the 4th industrial revolution?

Over the course of three days, the atmosphere buzzed with new concepts and terminologies which forced open the mind to new possibilities.  Ideas like smart cities and industrialized entrepreneurship no longer seem like far-fetched terms, but like actual solutions to some of our social problems.

To address these social problems, speakers across the entire spectrum of the conference, noted their concern regarding the inclusion of the entire population into the digital world.  To improve the infrastructure of different countries in Africa, people need access to the relevant digital platforms.  To mention just one example, in Kenya, people started looking for ways in which to improve dairy farming – both for the farmer and for the industry as a whole.  Technology can now be used to digitally detect illnesses in cows to alert farmers of the type of medicine they will need.  Capturing data in such a way has immensely improved the efficiency in dairy farming.

During the entire conference, the collaboration of technologically innovative minds, working together for the greater good of society, has been astounding.  To some it might seem like our country is digressing and that there are so many issues – physically, naturally, socially and politically, which seems to drag us down.

However, behind the scenes, in the background of an ever demanding society, creative entrepreneurs are working on finding technological methods to create solutions to some of our social problems.

It’s impressive to see and hear how organisations, within Africa, are using technology to improve and infiltrate the functionality of both the private and the public sector.  These two sectors working together are incremental to the success and progression of our society into the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The opening session of the 20th AfricaCom Conference, Accelerating Africa’s digital revolution: The path towards industry 4.0, correctly set the stage for the rest of the conference. The whole point is to ensure that technology becomes more inclusive, establishing digital connections between people. Founder & CEO of “Rekindle Learning”, Rapelang Rabana, voiced her concern about the fact that schooling systems continue to focus on only teaching and stimulating one side of the brain. If we want to move forward successfully in the 4th Industrial Revolution, “we need to create whole-brained people” she said.

This was just the start of the Keynote agenda, which was the mainstream of sessions, running every day of the conference. Consecutively to this were ten other streams of sessions. Navigating through this wealth of information was quite a challenge!

One of the aspects which made all of the different streams a great success was the facet of panel discussions. Some interesting talks included topics like:

Start with a problem, not a solution

During this session, CEO of Orderin, Dinesh Patel, made it clear that you “should be as knowledgeable as possible before you step into the ring”. His implication here is that we need the proper field training before we can honestly know how to face the problems. Learning from every mistake that we make is a vitally important part of finding the perfect solution to some of the social dilemmas we currently face in Africa. His solution: An innovative approach to creative entrepreneurship.

Building a digital society to increase economic inclusion

Economic inclusion refers to the importance that digital fluency should be improved to bring jobs to Africa’s youth. Of primary concern here is that the focus should be on creating a digital society which boosts both micro and macro economies within Africa. In short: Everyone should have digital access to make this possible.

Empowering women in tech

This discussion revolved around female entrepreneurs, and leaders in their industries, who shared stories about launching a business, developing careers and supporting Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem. Lots of highs and lows were shared with the key message being that you have to prepare to make mistakes, to be successful.

Mistakes should not be viewed as failures. Women tend to do this quite often and therefore inhibit themselves from continuously pursuing entrepreneurial dreams. Mistakes should be seen as opportunities to learn, and the sooner mistakes are embraced, the quicker progress can be made.

Another interesting point raised was that women should learn to collaborate with other women. Women seem to have the drive to present themselves as powerful and self-sufficient, and if they work with other women within the field, so much more could be accomplished.

A bit about blockchain and cryptocurrencies

Possibly one of the discussion points around which there seems to be the most instability. The term “blockchain” in and of itself raises confusion. However, it was best defined by CEO and Founder of BitPesa, Elizabeth Rossiello, in a question: “What is the Internet?” As we know, the internet is a platform created by a multitude of systems collaborating to form a collective whole. Rossiello described blockchain to function similarly.

It is not just one thing, but rather a collaboration of a multitude of systems working together to create a cryptocurrency platform, which can ensure financial inclusion of everyone within the African context. There are still some significant concerns about the instability of blockchain, and it seems like it could be a while before this currency is embraced into the economics of the general market. However, the fact that it could have economic and social advantages to the continent cannot be denied.

These are only a few of the discussions amongst some 50 panel discussions that took place over the course of three days. All of the discussions contained a wealth of technological genius and possibilities which debated the future of an opportunistic, entrepreneurial Africa.

Dreaming of a better tomorrow is possible. And, not only that, but these dreams might become a reality. In the new digital era we are entering, the sky is the limit. Things that seemed impossible just five years ago are already out-dated. Moving towards an ever more inter-connected social sphere and an entrepreneurial arena is paving the way for us to transition smoothly into the 4th Industrial revolution.

With that said, it is also clear that there is still a multitude of disruptions and restrictions prohibiting a large part of the African marginalised population, to move into this revolution. Not only that, but there seem to be some significant concerns about what exactly happens with all the collected data. Sure, the plan is to empower and equip people and also to use this data for the better of society, but there is a high risk connected to the fact that so much personal information is out there and open to exploitation.

Despite these concerns, being addressed on platforms of cyber-safety, significant efforts are being implemented to ensure that skills-training is provided to everyone, to move forward into the next digital age. Universities will have to look at improving their curriculums to include aspects of technical training into their degrees. Likewise, MBA programmes should add elements of entrepreneurship into their courses. These small changes will assist in the development and preparation of people into the next era.

The most significant challenge faced when thinking about moving forward into the 4th industrial revolution is access to all.

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