Many African countries are at the beginning of a major shift in how businesses are run as young entrepreneurs make their presence felt using new tools and technologies that were previously not available, writes MAGNUS NMONWU, of Sage.
We are all familiar with the stereotype of the young entrepreneur; technology whizz kids with all the latest mobile devices and the ability to multitask as they type hundreds of words a minute. Sage’s Walk With Me report – which examines the key characteristics, attitudes and behaviours of young entrepreneurs around the world – confirms that there is plenty of truth in this picture of how young people work and interact with technology.
What’s more, our research in Nigeria and 15 other countries shows that we are just at the beginning of a major shift in how businesses are run as the young entrepreneurs make their presence felt. Mobile technology has already made us all much more productive and helped companies of all sizes to reduce costs and become more efficient, but most young entrepreneurs see plenty of opportunities to do even much more with the tools and apps available at their disposal.
Some of the most interesting local findings on Nigerian young entrepreneurs include:
- 96% say that they still feel the same excitement about their business as they did when they first started it
- 44% say they will start over 5 businesses in their lifetime
- 42% say they would have still been able to run their business with the technology available 20 years ago
- 38% say they socialise with their team once a month
- 29% say that work comes before life
- 16% say that they get out of bed in the morning because they want to make a difference in the world and do some social good
Mobile devices are the platform of choice for today’s entrepreneur and, as you might expect from a generation that has been mobile literate from an extremely young age, a large proportion place huge emphasis on technology and are keen to be at the forefront of new trends. Young Nigerians are mobile-first people, so that’s no surprise at all.
Dion Chang, founder of Flux Trends has done a lot of work with organisations in South Africa that are looking to change the way they operate to better accommodate millennial entrepreneurs. The changes can seem daunting to big corporates, he says, because in many ways the new social values of this generation mean throwing out practices we’ve relied on for decades – a 9 to 5 work day, and the traditional desk work space, for example.
Oiling the wheels of a smooth business
More than a third of young entrepreneurs (38% in Nigeria) say the technology they use is the most important element when it comes to the smooth running of their business; they couldn’t prosper without it. 42% say they could probably not have run their business with the technology available 20 years ago. That’s an incredible stat: far from destroying jobs through automation, technology is inspiring young people to create businesses that could not have existed in the past.
When it comes to networking and new business, nearly 70% of Nigerian respondents say that they use technology rather than a face-to-face approach. Some 39% say that they depend on technology to succeed, while 44% say technology is invaluable in helping them market their business. These are numbers that would no doubt increase if we had to repeat this survey in five years’ time. Put simply, we’re seeing technology being woven into the very fabric of today’s businesses.
It’s also interesting to note how confident Nigerians are about their mastery of technology. About 80% of young entrepreneurs in Nigeria claim that despite technology constantly evolving, they do not worry about whether they will be able to keep up. Most Nigerians (80%) also say they do not worry about whether they will be able to afford the latest technology.
Will your desk be defunct?
Looking to the future, in the next ten years, 33% of Nigerians surveyed believe that technology will make the concept of ‘your desk’ defunct and that, in future, everyone will work remotely and flexibly, via a mobile device. Additionally, 45% agreed the workplace will have more virtual staff, working remotely and flexibly, while 23% said that they will save money on office space and overheads.
It’s intriguing to hear how young entrepreneurs are already transforming their businesses with technology, and how they expect to see the landscape keep evolving in the years to come. What we hear very clearly from our research is that young entrepreneurs in Nigeria and the rest of the world greatly value flexibility and want to have freedom over when, where and how they work, as well as with who.
For them, technology is not only a means to boosting efficiency and productivity; it is also a way to achieve the flexibility and work-life balance that they value so much. The future is mobile and we at Sage are giving our customers the power to control their businesses from the palm of their hand and embrace the future of mobility and what’s to come.
Entrepreneurs who understand the ‘giving economy’
Sage’s research showed that millennial entrepreneurs are far more focused on creating businesses that ‘give back’ to local communities and the world. At the recent Sage Summit in Chicago, the largest event for Small & Medium Businesses in the world, Zooey Deschanel and Gwyneth Paltrow spoke about the ‘Giving Economy’ and the idea that today’s consumer want more than products that will better their lives – they want to support companies that are socially conscious.
For big, established companies, this is also an important insight into how they can inspire their employees as well as their customers by having a positive influence on the community they serve.
- Magnus Nmonwu, Regional Director for Sage in West Africa.
IoT’s answer for Africa
IoT and digitization enables us to efficiently, proactively and predictively address the sustainability challenges that are faced globally and on the African continent, RESHAAD SHA, CEO of Liquid Telecom.
With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3-billion in 2018 to 1.7-billion in 2030, both challenges and opportunities are presented with regards managing issues including food production and security pose as well the utilization of limited natural resources in a sustainable manner.
Water scarcity and quality for example are realities that negatively impact health, food production and security. Population growth rates and climatic changes place an exponential demand on this scarce and dwindling resource. These are just some of the sustainability challenges facing not just the African continent, but other developing nations and the world as a whole. In addition to this, the demand for the delivery of basic services as healthcare and sanitation also increases.
Against this background of African population growth lies the grim projection that Africa will account for more than 50% of child deaths (under 5) by 2030, while each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases according to the UNICEF 2017 trends in child mortality report. It’s an alarming fact, given that while some 2.6-billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663-million people still do not have access.
The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Further, the department states that around 35% of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. These are just some of the ways in which reactive, inefficient, and manually driven processes have limited us in responding in an impactful manner and timeously mitigating these risks
It is for these reasons and other socio economic and environmental concerns that the United Nations has established its Sustainable Development Goals strategy, addressing the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, and environmental degradation.
We need to look at smarter ways that leverage technology in order to addressing these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive and data driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.
The IoT ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics and workflow automation platforms, and applications are at the core of acquiring, analyzing and harnessing the insights that can be integrated into agriculture, service delivery, health and resource management processer – IoT is at the core of a digitization
One such sector which has benefited immensely from technology is in agriculture pest control, with the implementation of AI and IoT by Spanish startup AgroPestAlert. The innovation makes use of “smart” traps that capture insects and analyse their wing beats to identify their species and even their sex. Placed throughout the fields, the traps communicate with the system to predict an imminent invasion. The system will send alerts to phones, tablets and computers and use an easy-to-understand visual tool to cue farmers instantly.
Around 200-million Africans use approximately 1-million manual pumps across the continent to manually access clean drinking water. IoT applications have been utilised in assuring the delivery of water through manual these pumps, According to estimates, at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The impact of not having access to clean drinking water is dehydration or water borne pandemics.
In the Kenyan Region of Kyusoa, Oxford University began a proof of concept project in 2013, which made use of motion sensors) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle which was transmitted and analysed in real time. A decision support system based on real data was used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking water for the rural population.
Liquid Telecom realise that the future of sustainability lies in technology and innovations such as IoT. We provide high speed fiber connectivity to interconnect as well as access platforms to build IoT solutions, in addition to access to Microsoft Azure suite of platforms for analytics and algorithm driven based processing and execution. Our Pan African network enables collaboration and cross border innovation and learning, fast well as the capability to efficiently scale out these solutions on Africa’s Liquid Cloud.
Africa start-up ecosystem can drive blockchain
Through nurturing and technical support, Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem can be a major driver of Blockchain-based innovation says BEN ROBERTS, Liquid Telecom’s Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.
African communities have always come-up with inventive solutions to local problems. Take Somalia as an example. The country is said to have one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. It has few commercial banks and relations with international creditors remain frozen due to debts incurred in the late 1980s.
So its population uses Hawala; an informal value transfer system based on the performance and honour of a large network of money brokers. For example, it would mean a Somali based in the US would give money to a local branch agent, where it is sent to a central country clearing house, then onto a clearing house based in another country (typically somewhere in the Middle East). From there it goes to a Somali agent, before the funds are finally collected by an individual in Somalia.
Much like blockchain, the Hawala system is built on trust – but that’s where any similarities end. In fact, cryptocurrencies – many of which are blockchain-powered – may eventually become a replacement for Hawala and other existing forms of international remittances. Cryptocurrencies can enable people to exchange currency online without any middleman – even banks.
International remittance is one of many compelling use cases for blockchain. The technology’s ability to digitise trust makes it a unique fit for many African countries, particularly those where processes and supply chains remain poorly designed and susceptible to corruption.
At Liquid Telecom, we’re excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging technologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses that utilises our network infrastructure and services. The rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of the region’s software developers, who themselves rely on a high-speed internet connection and access to cloud-based tools. Our fibre footprint – which will soon stretch all the way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt – is providing the foundations for digital innovation, while our partnership with Microsoft is enabling access to the cloud-based services and tools needed to create digital solutions for local problems.
Last year, with support from Microsoft, we set-up our Go Cloud initiative, which is helping to provide the region’s start-up communities with technical support, training and access to software. Using Azure Cloud, start-ups can cut development time and experiment easily with modular, preconfigured networks and infrastructure, enabling them to iterate and validate blockchain scenarios quickly by using built-in connections to Azure.
We’re starting to see the first crop of African start-ups experimenting with blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Take Rwandan start-up Uplus, which is utilising blockchain to secure all transactions on its digital crowdfunding platform. The technology also allows the platform to take contributions from any country and covert it to the local currency.
A lot of existing applications in Africa tend to fall short when it comes to user experience, and blockchain could certainly help address some of these issues – be it by creating a new trusted way to make payments or verify user identification. During this early stage of blockchain experimentation and proof of concept, it will be crucial for start-ups and businesses to develop solutions that are relevant for African communities. Without that, the technology won’t gather momentum.
Regulation can nurture or constrict the technology and will have a role to play in being a ‘make or break’ for blockchain. Living in Kenya, I’m proud to see how proactive the government has been in seizing the blockchain opportunity. The creation by the President of a taskforce earlier this year dedicated to blockchain – led by the former permanent secretary for Ministry of Information and Communications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo (see page 7) – shows how committed the country is to being a leader in emerging technologies. As more African countries follow Kenya’s lead, blockchain should hopefully find itself resonating more powerfully with local businesses and consumers.