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The Cisco EDGE Centre at WomHub in Cape Town

Africa News

US sees massive tech opportunity in Africa

The African continent is bursting with technical skills potential, Cisco executive vice-president FRAN KATSOUDAS told ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

With all eyes last week on BRICS and its efforts to create a non-Western trade alignment, a visit by a key member of a distinctly Western business body went almost unnoticed.

Fran Katsoudas, executive vice president and chief people, policy, and purpose officer of global networking giant Cisco, concluded a 7-week visit to the Africa continent in Cape Town last Monday. She presided over the opening of a Cisco EDGE Centre, named for an acronym of Experience, Design, Go-to-market and earn. During her trip across Africa, she had opened a similar facility in Nigeria, aimed at giving small and medium enterprises access to cutting-edge connectivity and collaboration technology.

The Cape Town centre, as with one in Johannesburg, is housed within WomHub, a boutique incubator dedicated to female founders in science, technology, engineering, mining, and manufacturing.

Fran Katsoudas is executive vice president and chief people, policy & purpose officer of Cisco

Katsoudas’s trip was not only about Cisco, however. She was also wearing another hat, as a member of President Joe Biden’s President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA). The body advises on ways to strengthen commercial engagement between the United States and African countries, and members represent a diverse range of industries and economic sectors.  

In this context, her perspective of Africa was as important as anything that came out of the BRICS deliberations.

“The first thing that I learned is that there are amazing opportunities across the continent,” she told us. “What’s unique across Africa is that every conversation that I had, whether it was with a customer or a partner, they’re all focused on digital skills. Then, when you meet with government, you hear that conversation amplified even more. So I think the focus on digital skills for the continent is going to be incredibly differentiating.”

Cisco itself has long focused on building digital skills and has trained 17.5-million students over the last 25 years. EDGE Centres are likely to take this impact further into businesses.

“Now we are building partnerships that allow us to understand how we not just educate, but help people find careers that are meaningful and, in doing so, have tremendous impact on the economy.

A message that Katsoudas will be able to take back is the constant reminder that Africa is not one country. The major markets, she says, all were “unique and differentiated”.

“As an example, when we were in Nigeria to open an EDGE Centre, we could feel an amazing entrepreneurial spirit across Nigeria. The government is investing in technical skills, and thinking about the competencies they want to build for school-aged children, which will include technical skills. It was great to see that level of engagement and interest in technical skills. There’s a realisation that, when companies are being built, anything that can help them build scale will truly lift the country up.

“In Kenya, we see great partnerships from across the US with the Kenyan government, which creates an opportunity for us to talk about unique public-private partnerships, in service of building business. Again, building digital skills.

“What’s amazing is, across all of the different regions, technology is viewed as an element of it all. In the past we talked with companies about what is your business strategy, and then what is your technology strategy, and we saw those things coming together into one. Now, business strategy, technology and purpose are coming together, and I have heard that across the continent.”

The most significant insight she offered, however, given her PAC-DBIA role, was the prospect for growth of US-South Africa trade.

“I see us working hard to become a partner and, in some cases, hopefully a leader in driving growth across South Africa. The number of conversations that we’re having today is exponentially bigger than it had been just a couple years ago.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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