By Andrew Mack
This, of course, is not completely new news. Initiatives to get urban and rural African cities on the grid have been going for over a decade – things like USAID’s Leland Program spring to mind, but there are many others. However, in today’s Emerging Markets ICT world, especially in
The first difference is Leadership. African leaders, including Presidents like Kagame, Kufuor and Johnson-Sirleaf, are more ICT-focused than their predecessors, offering high-level support to projects and policies that will really (not just rhetorically) help the spread of ICT. Countries from
African leaders are even adopting the language of ICT, building Government around the needs of what they hope will become a new class of “eCitizens”. And to make this a reality, they are implementing institutional reforms. As just one example, according to
The second difference is the increasingly active private sector, and its willingness to work with Government and civil society on all manner of partnerships. Some of these efforts are primarily philanthropic. A good example is the NEPAD e-Schools Initiative, which works with more than a dozen countries and major tech firms like Intel, Oracle, HP, Cisco, and Microsoft. The initiative aims to equip African youth with in-classroom technology and ICT skills to participate in today’s information society. It’s an approach that is innovative in the way that it brings together multiple companies and countries and is a long-term commitment.
And there are other examples – risk taking by private sector actors large and small that recognize the opportunity presented by technology in the re-building in places like
However, today it’s simply not enough to raise the flag for enlightened Governments and innovative companies. Why? Because tech today is reaching only a small fraction of the people that it should. Specifically, tech is reaching only a small fraction of the youth and young adults that need it most, the citizen-consumers that are the heart and soul of tech-centered innovation and commerce in the “more developed world”.
What will it take for ICT in
The answer is as simple as YouTube, the same as anywhere in the world – DEMAND, specifically demand from networks of fearless, innovative tech-friendly young Africans. And what will it take to bring African youth and young adults more into the global chat room? Why not start by building bridges – and programs – to work between young techies in
There are already good models that can be leveraged and groups with much to teach us. Perhaps the largest is GeekCorps (www.geekcorps.com), with more than 3,500 technical experts in developing nations around the world. Another group is Kabissa (www.kabissa.org), an international NGO that trains African NGOs on the use of ICT. In addition, there’s the International Education Resource Network or iEARN (www.iearn.org), an organization that enables teachers and young people to use the Internet and other new technologies to enhance learning.
We should build on these examples but we can go further, with broader reach and a broader focus on creating sustainable businesses. Imagine young African and American TechCorps members paired to work on technology projects, providing training aimed at youth, taught by youth, with an end goal of building not just friendships and skills but legitimate, lasting young business networks. Imagine some day soon – projects currently being outsourced to international firms could instead be “in-sourced” to TechCorps teams on the ground with support from the TechCorps network around the world.
Naturally taking this idea to “the next level” would involve investment. It would require close collaboration with the ICT development plans of participating countries. However, many parties – from donors, to Governments, to universities, the private sector and people themselves – are eager to make this happen. And think of the opportunities…
…TechCorps hubs in secondary cities like Gulu or Makeni that might start as a collaborative aid project, but morph from Peace Corps-type activity to legitimate corps (as in corporations) – creating an ongoing commercial relationship with Gulu TC members wherever they are in the world, something made possible by today’s technology.
… Partnerships with suppliers of hardware and software, bringing the latest technologies and training to young adults who will run the new e-gov programs and service the back offices of growing companies – after all, a country unfamiliar with the latest technology can hardly demand it.
… real business-focused training aimed at creating real businesses, directly addressing issues of project sustainability and employment that have stymied the growth of these markets and opportunities for years.
… a way for US young adults to get to know Africa and its future – today’s real Africa – in an organic way, giving future US business leaders a real, on-the-ground understanding of technology’s next frontier, something that today only European (and increasingly Chinese) companies have.
Is this a big idea? Perhaps. But it could be closer than you think. The projects are out there… Consider the ICT hubs program recently proposed by
The future is rapidly approaching, one in which the Government is no longer the prime provider of jobs for young Africans entering the workforce. When
The best thing that we in the West can do regarding tech in
Send us your thoughts.
-Written with Jeremy M. Goldberg