Young, digital, driven – the youth of Africa are the doorway to building socially relevant and economically viable businesses.

Imagine more than 160 million new unique mobile subscribers by 2025. Imagine 623 million people across sub-Saharan Africa connected by mobile devices. These are the statistics from the Mobile Economy: Sub-Saharan Africa 2019 report conducted by GSMA Intelligence.

It is also the doorway to a thriving economy where millions of young Africans are connected. But to open that door, entrepreneurs and businesses have to play a role in driving employment and engagement. This can only be a productive and profitable future if those who are connected can earn money and become productive members of society.

There is immense value in building a business on social principles and it’s a growing global trend. In Johannesburg, a coffee shop is providing the homeless with skills and an income. Globally, entrepreneurs are leveraging their talents and ambition to change legacy problems while building a profitable business. In South Africa, the problems of unemployment and stagnant economy are challenging but with a dash of innovation and a splash of mobile technology, there are ways to not only improve quality of life, but create jobs.

Mobile technology allows for the business to take your solution directly to the target market. If done well, it talks to the right people in the right place at the right time. For example, imagine harnessing the mobile connectivity of a community to undertake specific tasks or market research? This is already being done by innovative South African companies such as Watu – they use mobile phones and the accessibility of the gig economy to gather up valuable market information in rural areas and townships. Their employees are the vast numbers of youth who are hooked on technology and want the opportunity.

This type of thinking is what’s needed to really transform the South African market and pull together the potential of mobile in Africa. It’s not just the youth either.

Mobile technology is a mobile platform that can deliver messages into any communities, markets and age groups.

It’s far more ubiquitous today than it was five years ago and it’s dragging Africa, slowly but surely, into the much publicised Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

To really harness this potential, however, the most important step is to do the research and have a clear strategy. Sure, the idea sounds great but don’t go blindly. If you plan to create solutions, base them around fact and where mobile can most benefit the business. There are no easy answers but you will find them if you do the work and if you understand and unpack the market first. The smartphone penetration across Africa is large and growing every second. It’s only a matter of time before the continent is fully plugged in. This does add to the already cluttered digital world, however, so any solutions you devise will have to be focused on gaining and retaining attention. Always focus on the benefits to the end consumer and stay focused on your business goals and ethos.

If you’re planning on tapping into the potential of the unemployed, connected population, keep their value top of mind throughout the process. Ensure that your strategy recognises their value and use your business to leverage both your growth and their own. If your mobile goals are to penetrate the market with compelling services that can be consumed on a mobile platform, then ensure that what you offer ultimately benefits the end consumer.

In the end, it’s important to always ask questions. Does it fit into the market? Do you have tight competition? Is it already happening? Whether you’re a capitalist, consumer or philanthropist, you need to know the answers and remember that mobile is the key to opening the door.

What government must do to drive the digital economy to ignite economic activity – something that South Africa desperately needs – it is imperative that local businesses and business owners gain better access to digital technologies. This will enable the creation of more tech-enabled businesses, create more jobs and open new markets.

However, South Africa still lags far behind; ranking 85th for ICT adoption in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2018. Africa’s most thriving digital economies can be found in cities like Kigali and Nairobi while South Africa’s data costs – the highest on the continent – are currently a huge prohibitor for local businesses to participate and succeed digitally.

It is imperative that South Africa’s government come to the party in this respect. Firstly, they need to follow through on the commitments made in this year’s Budget Speech and again in the medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS), as well as those included in the Economic Recovery Plan.

Among these was the promise to implement effective strategies and regulations to reduce the cost of data, as well as improving the quality of data. Another key component to unlocking growth of the digital economy is increasing levels of digital literacy across the country. By incorporating more ICT-related studies in the national curriculum, we can ensure that learners will be gaining the skills in the classroom that are necessary to take part in the digital economy.

In addition to creating more potential digital entrepreneurs, educating learners on digital technologies will also add to the potential local customer base looking to purchase local goods and services in the digital marketplace. In turn, South Africans will be better connected across borders, which will drive better intra-regional and cross-continent trade, further contributing to GDP growth.

As seen in Biz Mag

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