Upskilling Entrepreneurs for Digital Age

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Emma Okonji writes on the impact of Google’s Digital Skills for Africa Initiative on small businesses, which seeks to train 10 million Africans on digital technology

In order promote digital skills among small businesses and to scale up such businesses and make them globally accessible, Google, in 2016, announced its intention to train one million young Africans within one year. In 2017, it extended the programme for another five years in order to reach 10 million Africans. Last year, Google announced plans to help more people in Africa and prepare them for jobs of the future through its local community-focused digital skills training programmes. In total, over three million people have now acquired different levels of digital skills in 29 countries across Africa via face-to-face training as well as through the online platform, which is available in English, French and Portuguese.

Among the three million trained in digital skills across Africa, 50 per cent are from Nigeria, and Google has indicated interest to train more Nigerians through the initiative.

Penultimate week, Google extended the training initiative to Aba traders in Abia State, where it intends to train traders and local manufacturers and help them make their products and services available online for global connectivity.

Google’s Digital Skills for Africa programme offers training courses to help individuals and communities develop and grow digital skills, find jobs and advance in their careers. The programme provides free online courses, tools, and one-on-one digital training to students, educators, job seekers, businesses and local manufacturers. Known for their ingenuity in local manufacturing and garment design, including leather works for shoes and bags, Aba traders are expected to grow their businesses online, diversify their business skills and make more money through the Google Digital Skills for Africa Initiative.

Google’s launch in Aba

 Speaking at the launch of Google Digital Skills Initiative for Africa in Aba and its environs penultimate week, some Google team and partners gave details of the expectations of the training initiative and its impact on small businesses. According to them, “The target is to train 10 million Africans on digital skills and we have extended the skills training to Aba in Abia State and we want the traders in Aba and its environs to take advantage of it. We are not just in Aba for the short-term, but we are in Aba for the long-term to teach digital skills to Aba traders and help them put their businesses online. We are committed to it and we look forward to the collaboration with the state government to make the initiative successful. We are in Aba to develop the digital skills of traders, and enable every trader in Aba to be on the digital map and grow their businesses faster.”

Speaking on the initiative, Head, Brand and Reputation at Google, Mojolaoluwa  Aderemi-Makinde, said: “What we are doing with the Google Digital Skills Initiative for Africa is to discover the power of the internet and to enable the people to use the power of the internet to empower themselves and scale up their businesses. In 2017, Google made a commitment to train 10 million Africans including businesses in digital skills. The commitment was made by our Global CEO, when he came to Africa, precisely to Nigeria. So far we have trained three million Africans, among whom, 50 per cent are Nigerians and we are still training Africans to meet the 10 million target. The training also covers software developers training and we provide grants for trained software developers to begin their own business, through the Google Impact Challenge. We have trained and empowered several technology startups that are already solving local challenges though different local software packages that were developed by them.”

According to her, up to 60 per cent of African youths remained unemployed, hence developing digital entrepreneurship and creating new job opportunities for them was critical to Africa’s transformative growth.

 “Google is doing this because it believes that more needs to be done to empower young Africans to succeed in the digital world,” Aderemi-Makinde added.

The focus on Aba

 Google Partner, Kossisor Aniekwe, who gave the narrative of how Google decided to extend the digital skills training to Aba, said the lack of digital skills in businesses around Aba town, prompted Google to focus on Aba. According to him, in 2016, he was in Aba and decided to buy some clothing in Aba, based on the childhood story he grew up with that Aba is a home for tailoring, and shoe making among others. But to his greatest surprise, he could not find any tailor who is a fashion designer online, when he searched online, using his mobile phone. He realised that there were lots of skilled tailors in Aba doing good business, yet none of them could be found online. Weighing the implication, Aniekwe said what it means was that people all over the country and all over the world cannot do online business with fashion designers in Aba, except they had to travel from their locations to Aba, because their products are not showcased online.

“I saw this as a big setback for garment and fashion designers in Aba because they are only limiting the volume of their business transactions by not showcasing their products online. I noticed that most traders in Aba do not have online presence as well even when they tend to be doing well in business,” Aniekwe said.

According to him, his experience become a burning passion for him and he had to physically meet with the President of Aba Garment Association of Nigeria, Comrade Onyebuchi Nwigwe, from where he entered into discussion with him on how to extend the Google Digital Skills for Africa Initiative to Aba, to train them on digital skills and to train them on how to upload their products and services online in order to scale up their business.

“We had the first training in 2017, and many of the tailors developed their websites and uploaded those  business online and their business has grown bigger that what it used to be. Some of those that we trained who are not traders, now take photos of traders’ goods and upload them online and through that online platform, they get businesses for traders and they get their commission for every single business they connect to each trader. Based on the skills gap, we decided to extend the Google Digital Skills for Africa Initiative to Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State,” Aniekwe said.

“Today we live in the world of information technology (IT) that has the power to transform businesses faster than expected. The technology of the internet has the ability  to fast-track so many businesses and make them achieve more within a short period of time. The benefits of the internet is huge, and one of them is to help businesses make quick return in investments, thereby expanding their volume of trade and generating more money for business owners. With the launch of Google Digital Skills for Africa Initiative in Aba, there will be digital skills training for all local manufacturers and small businesses in Aba, which translates to skills acquisition that will empower businesses, and help them raise more revenue and grow employment in Aba and its environs,” Aniekwe further said.

Traders’ Response

President of Aba Association of Tailors and Fashion Designers, Comrade Onyebuchi Nwigwe, who expressed the excitement of Aba traders and manufacturers over the launch of Google Digital Skills For Africa Initiative in Aba, said: “Local skills development is well known with the people of Aba in Abia State. In the whole of West Africa, traders that deal on garments and clothing, travel to Aba to trade on garment and clothing, and we have done this business for a very long time and it is not only with garments, but also with leather shoes and bags, including hand-purses.

“The three most essentials of life is food, shelter and clothing, but among these three essentials, clothing is paramount to them all, the reason been that people can go about their normal businesses without eating food for a day and nobody notices it. People can go about their businesses without renting or building a house of their own as shelter and no one will notice it, but nobody goes about his or her business of the day without clothing. If anyone does that, he or she is noticed immediately, which of course makes clothing the most essential in life.

“But we have been in the business of garment and clothing for a long time, without applying technology and digital skills that will help us grow our business better and we thank the Google team for their initiative to train us on digital skills in the business of garment and clothing.”

According to him, “Since Google visited us in Aba, our customer-base has tripled and we now transact business online without our customers taking the risk of traveling long distances to Aba to buy our products. Today we can stay in our shops in Aba and transact online business in minutes with customers from other parts of the country and outside the country, because they can now access our products online from wherever they are, and we thank Google for this great feat.

“Today Aba traders are doing international business without traveling out of Aba and we see this as great achievement that Google has helped us to attain.”

“What we need more is for Abia State government to provide a business area for Aba manufactures and traders, where we can come together and do business in a most comfortable way. Today, traders are scattered across Aba town, doing fantastic businesses, but we need a business location that will accommodate all kinds of local manufacturers and traders to do business in one community. The essence of coming together is to check quality of products that are produced and improve on them so that we can compete favourably with the rest of the world,” Nwigwe said.

Government’s Position

 Secretary to the State Government (SSG) of Abia State, Chris Ezem, who represented Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, welcomed the Google initiative to train Aba traders on digital skills and explained government’s position on digital skills development.

 “On behalf of the Governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu and the good people of the state, I welcome the Google team to the launch of Google Digital Skills for Africa Initiative in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State, he said, explaining that in today’s world, commercial, activities rides and depends on technology and innovation in the digital world, via the internet.

“Technology innovation has redefined the banking sector across globe because the financial sector embraced technology to better serve their growing customers. Banking operations have moved from the physical banking strictures to virtual banking, where financial transactions are carried out online-realtime by the bank customers themselves from the comfort of their homes and offices and even when on the move, without stepping into the banking halls.

“In the area of communication, technology innovation has also redefined postal services, where people send letters in seconds via the internet and receive instant responses through the same medium. The same technology is what Google is bringing to Aba through its Digital Skills For Africa Initiative, to help businesses scale fast with ease, and businesses will be transacted online and in realtime, with products and services showcased on the internet for global access, and we really appreciate what the Google team is doing to help Aba traders do more business online and to showcase their goods and services online.

“It will enable the world to have access to the products and services and also purchase them online from any part of the country and from any part of the world. The government of Abia State is therefore encouraging all traders in Aba and its environs to take good opportunity of the digital skills training that Google is offering them,”  Ezem said.

Addressing the demand of Nwigwe that the state government should provide a large space of land for traders to do business in the state, Ezem added the traders of the state government’s willingness to provide a conducive place for business for Aba traders.

According to him, “Aba is topmost in the priority list of the state government and government will soon complete the Enyimba Economic City that is expected to provide employment for over 700,000 people in the state and the state government will allocate a space to traders in the Economic City, on completion by December this year.

“The state government is in partnership with the Bank of Industry to position traders in the Enyimba Economic City,” Ezem said.

Collaboration

 Ezem announced that the state government would enter into partnership with the Google to establish ICT hubs in Aba and outside Aba town, to drive the implementation of ICT policy for the state, and to establish Internet service connectivity to government house and other agencies of government, including tertiary institutions in Abia State.

“Government is interested in linking all government agencies with the internet so that agencies of government can communicate seamlessly with one another, to enable government business run as fast as possible, and we will collaborate with Google to achieve the feat,” Ezem said.

“The government of Abia State is excited to have Google introduce the Digital Skills Training to the business community and local manufacturers in Aba, Abia State, that will drive business expansion, help to increase sales and create employment opportunities in the state.

“The world is now a global place as a result of information technology and Abia, through the Digital Skills Training by Google will be able to key into the digital narrative,” he said.