Digital Vision of the Developing Nations: Nigeria collaborates with India to accelerate ICT growth

On Wednesday 6th September, I had the opportunity to speak at the third Indo-Africa ICT Expo, held in Lagos, Nigeria. Jointly organised by TEPC and NASSCOM, the Indo Africa ICT Expo is a platform for the convergence of technology and business exchange. The two-day conference was supported by the Minister of Communication from India and the Minister of Telecommunication from Nigeria to help accelerate growth in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), with a view to boosting both countries’ economies through greater penetration and use of advanced technologies and services.

India recognises that Africa is possibly the last major economically untapped region and is emerging as one of the prominent trade partners for Africa. Africa is among the fastest growing markets worldwide due to improved macroeconomic indicators, conducive business environment, larger, younger, and more affluent population, rising middle class and political stability. All these are strong indicators of not only source of capital but job creation, skills development, technology transfer, infrastructure development, responsible governance and above all sustained growth with long term diversification and transformation of African economies.

India has leveraged the opportunities from the convergence of IT and Telecom, unlocking huge demand in ICT to meet the needs of the consumers and service providers. The Indian delegation highlighted many of their innovative products and proven capabilities in this high growth sector which is already making India the preferred destination for services and outsourced R&D.

ICT Ministers Share their Vision for Digital Africa

IT and Telecom form the backbone for the growth of any country and Africa has been one of the fastest growing markets worldwide in ICT adoption and communication technology. The key highlight was the ICT Ministers’ Roundtable Meeting under the guiding theme ‘Digital Vision of the Developing Nations,” where ministers from Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria shared the ICT visions of their countries over the next five years, highlighting partnership opportunities that such vision would bring to the industry at large for the two regions. The Hon. Minister for Telecommunication, Abdul-Raheem Adebayo Shittu, also the host for the Indian delegation, set out his vision for the digital Nigeria. His proposed ICT Development Fund; ICT Park and engaging the Universities to offer ICT training are all welcome initiatives which will help to strengthen the Nigerian tech ecosystem. Parallel to the conference was an exhibition of Indian and African companies to display their ICT strengths and build business relationships with the Indian ICT industry.

Tony Elumelu Foundation: Empowering African Entrepreneurs

Representing the Tony Elumelu Foundation, I spoke on the “role of digital innovation and cross sector partnerships for economic transformation of Africa”. I opened my presentation with the screening of a two-minute trailer from the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme documentary, highlighting the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs, transforming Africa. Through the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme, we are investing in training, mentoring, and funding the next generation of African entrepreneurs. Since the launch of the programme in 2015, we have trained, mentored, and funded 3000 start-ups from across Africa. At the Foundation, we recognise the importance of technology for the economic growth of Africa. The TEF Entrepreneurship Programme is technology enabled and technology driven from application, mentor learning to building Africa’s largest network of entrepreneurs. We are proud to say our technology platforms have been built by local tech companies, including an alumnus of the programme.

TEF Tech Entrepreneurs

While, our entrepreneurship programme is sector agnostic, over 260 TEF entrepreneurs are in the ICT Industry sector and a further 1000+ are using technology to drive their business in varying sectors. Nigeria has the largest representation in the ICT sector with 51%, which indicates that Nigeria interests in ICT sector is becoming more competitive. Through our partnership with Microsoft 4Afrika, we are meeting the growing needs for technology by TEF entrepreneurs. Our partnership with SAGE ONE is enabling our entrepreneurs to use technology for accounting.

Many of our entrepreneurs are using technology as a tool for development. Ndubuisi Eze, Nigeria based entrepreneurs is using drones which provides aerial images from drones, weather forecasts, and soil sensors making it possible to manage crop growth in real time. While Edmond Nonie, Sierra Leone entrepreneur is using drone technology to monitor and map construction sites. He is currently spearheading mapping of the areas affected by Mudslide in Sierra Leone

Last year, we welcomed Seni Sulyman, Country Director, Nigeria of Andela to speak to the 1000 entrepreneurs gathered for the 2016 TEF Entrepreneurship Forum. In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg, Founder Facebook, invested £24 million in Andela through the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. This was an endorsement of not only Andela’s work to train local software developers, but also in the Nigerian tech ecosystem. Founded in 2014, Andela’s mission is to “build a network of technology leader in the African continent”. In 2016 African tech startups raised $366.8 million in investments. Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa accounted for 80% of the total funding.  The size of the investments in also increasing. Similarly, the number of tech hubs in Africa has risen to 310, with 173 recorded in 2016, according to World Bank.

Technology as tool for Development

The impact from the convergence of IT and Telecom is already evident in Nigeria and across Africa. Mobile internet adoption in Africa continues to drive this sector with over 300 million subscribers this year, an additional 250 million expected by 2020. Mobile internet is the platform of choice. The richness of entrepreneurial potential is being demonstrated by Africa’s technological innovators who are using mobile technology to increase productivity. In Ghana, the Mobile Technology for Community Health initiative aims to improve healthcare for pregnant mothers by providing time-specific information about their pregnancies and childcare each week. A separate application enables nurses to collect patient data and upload records to a centralized database to track the progress of patents and identify those who are due for care. Similar schemes operate in Rwanda, Mozambique and South Africa, while a programme in Nigeria known as Smart has halved the turnaround time for test results for early diagnosis of HIV infection in infants. Using small battery-operated printers and SMS technology, health facilities can receive and print test results without having computers and internet access.

New and emerging technologies have often underpinned and enabled significant development progress over the decades – from vaccines to mobile phones to the internet. The UN has recently called for much more work in this area, arguing that it is ‘critical to assess how technology can be mobilized to provide solutions to our greatest challenges’ in achieving the Global Goals. If by 2030, if we are to extend universal healthcare to nine billion people, provide them with sustainable sources of food and energy, and develop secure and inclusive work – to pick just four of the goals – business as usual and reliance on existing solutions won’t get us there. Africa, a home to the largest untapped talent pool will play a significant role in meeting this challenge.

Investing in African Tech Start-ups

Technologies are transforming the global entrepreneurial landscape and in Africa in areas of e-Governance, Education, Security, Healthcare, Banking and across private sectors. They are driving the demand for ICT in Africa and other key verticals including BFSI, tourism, telecom, healthcare, education, and capacity building. Nigeria has the potential to lead in the continents digital transformation. To achieve this, large African corporates, banks, business, government, institutions, and Tech Start-ups need to collaborate. Corporates can offer financial support, management support and mentoring, while the tech Start-ups offer solutions.  They can go from collaboration to acquisition to help scale local tech entrepreneurs. Governments must also invest more of their GDP in R&D. The Africa Union has set target of at 1%, but only Kenya, Mali, and South Africa are meeting this target. Investments like this can help skill up, educate and train army of young Africans coders so that they will be ready to shape the global economy of the future. This long-term investment in local talent will lead to cheaper local development teams who can build better products.  

Indo-Africa Collaboration

African Tech Entrepreneurs are addressing local and Pan-African. India, which in the 1970s was at a similar level of development to African countries, is now home to some of the world’s leading technology companies. Africa can learn from India’s experience. The entrepreneurial potential of the upcoming generation of African tech entrepreneurs is immense; the Indo-Africa collaboration will help accelerate growth in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Nigeria and across Africa.