We’re often told that entrepreneurship is crucial to securing Africa’s future, especially when it comes to providing the jobs the continent so desperately needs. There’s also no doubt that the continent has any number of entrepreneurial stories to draw inspiration from. Across the continent, startups are grabbing headlines and bringing in multimillion dollar investments.
The technology space, in particular, has taken massive strides over the past few years, with the likes of Flutterwave, Interswitch, and Jumia all reaching the fabled ‘unicorn’ status that comes with a billion dollar plus valuation. But technology’s role isn’t confined to glamorous, billion dollar startups. It can also be used to enable entrepreneurship everywhere from bustling city corners to isolated, rural villages.
With the right approach, this understanding of entrepreneurship can not only help build up communities and create jobs, but also bridge digital divides.
Bridging digital divides
Across Africa, there is a major gap when it comes to digital access. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, approximately 800-million people are not connected to the mobile internet. Of those, some 520-million can access the mobile internet but don’t, because of factors such as smartphone penetration and lack of skills while 270-million cannot access the mobile internet because they don’t have the requisite coverage.
In a world where digital products are increasingly the norm, that means organisations are missing out on customers and people are missing out on products and services that could add value to their lives.
One solution for this is to build products that help bridge the divide. An insurance startup could, for instance, make it possible for people to sign up for tailored products using USSD codes. That’s made a great deal easier with a simplified back-end architecture and a digital experience platform (DXP) that can unlock the possibilities of enterprise-exclusive content management capabilities and UI/UX options designed specifically for the unconnected and underconnected.
Even in markets with as high a mobile penetration as South Africa, the levels of digital literacy may not be high enough for people to fully embrace these products. Here, organisations can blend the digital with the analogue by training entrepreneurs who can help rural citizens access insurance products digitally, even if their own digital skill-sets are lacking. These entrepreneurs can, in turn, become customers when it comes to insuring their own businesses.
Another side effect of this is that if these entrepreneurs are trusted members of the community, they can act as evangelists for technology, inspiring people to take their own entrepreneurial journeys.
Technology as an enabler
The same is true for any number of other industries, including financial services, health, and transport. The important thing is to realise that technology can never be the solution in and of itself. Instead, technology should be viewed as an enabler.
In particular, technology should help solve existing problems. Whether it’s sending and receiving money across national borders, making sure people can get to scheduled healthcare appointments, or helping store owners accept and track payments, there are problems to be solved. But technology can only solve those problems if it understands the contexts which have created those problems and works within them.
The best way for that to happen is for people within those communities to be exposed to technologies. The organisations that understand this not only stand to grow their customer bases and build up goodwill, they can also foster community entrepreneurs.
And while that doesn’t guarantee entrepreneurial success, it’s clear that the more people are given entrepreneurial opportunities, the more successful entrepreneurs there will be.