The Vice President and Managing Director for HP Africa, Elisabeth Moreno, in this interview calls on African governments to explore collaboration with private investors to enhance the adoption of technology in the continent and address socio- economic challenges. Omolabake Fasogbon brings the excerpt:
For Years, Africa has been closely watched as the next growth market, but this projection seems not to be manifesting. What do you think is wrong?
Today, one cannot contest the fact that technology is pivotal to growth. Many studies have proven beyond measures that the adoption of new technologies can result in greater productivity, greater competitiveness and profitability. This will in turn facilitate the creation of more and better jobs. Lately, a lot of developments are turning up in Africa, making the continent to scale up with global technology. For example, Tech hubs are springing up in countries like Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, and Tunisia among others. In fact, the latest collaborative effort by Briter Bridges and the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator programme, identifies 618 active tech hubs across the continent, a 40 percent increase over the previous year.
However, the continent’s general lack of infrastructure, capabilities, skills and awareness prove to be barriers to digitalisation and growth.
As a matter of fact, the World Bank believes that Africa was crucial to the future of global development, hence plans to invest $25 billion in Africa’s digital transformation over the next decade. Present day realities have only justified the essence of innovative solutions to lift Africans out of poverty and poor living conditions amidst other socio-economic problems.
What then do you think is the way out?
The result of a stronger agricultural, business, tourism, education and manufacturing sector is a reduction in poverty and economic growth in the whole continent. To achieve this, companies are going to need to partner with the various governments to help drive change and prepare citizens for a technologically advanced era.
How can technology translate into profitability for Africa continent?
A stronger synergy between private firms and governments would enhance technology returns. For instance, in the area of education, partnership can help to boost digital literacy from school-going age to those already in the workforce. ICT skills can be integrated into business management training and school curriculums. As such, adoption of automation and other technologies are seen as less of a threat and challenge. In the area of agriculture, new technologies have the potential to enable farmers to increase yields, select new crops, conserve natural resources, and better understand and adapt to climate change. By ensuring that new technologies are more easily accessible for start-ups and entrepreneurs, mentoring them, more farmers will be able to play an increasing role in boosting the local and national economies.
How does HP intend to support growth in the continent with technology?
As one who has toured the nooks and crannies of Africa, I have come to realise that there are tremendous optimism and talented people who are committed to growth in the continent. This is really a major strength that we can work with. As a responsible company, our vision is to help improve access to quality education for all, create jobs and improve the ease of doing business for entrepreneurs using future technologies. There are lot that need to happen for Africa to realise this vision.
Education has to be strengthened and balanced for male, female and the marginalised. In Africa, 43 per cent of the population is currently aged below 15, the highest percentage in the world. By 2035, the number of sub-Saharan Africans reaching working age of 15-64 will exceed the rest of the world combined, adding 12 million to the labour force every year (World Bank: Human Capital Project, 2018). This is an eye-opening statistic, particularly when you learn that 97.54 million children of school going age are in fact not in school.
More concerning is that four million sub-Saharan girls will never attend school compared to two million boys. Given that Africa is the region with the highest rate of return on education — each year of schooling raises learning by 11 per cent for males and 14 per cent for females — those are definitely statistics we need to change.
For underserved and marginalised groups, people with disabilities, refugees, and those not in school, technology can be a great equaliser, helping to bridge the digital divide and connect people and communities to greater learning opportunities. The problem is that a lack of basic technological infrastructure puts developing countries at risk of experiencing new technological, economic and social divides.
If public-private partnerships can be embraced to address this issue, then technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to improve the standard of education across Africa. Our vision in HP is to empower teachers, improve learning outcomes and help to equip learners across the continent with the business and technology skills they need to succeed. Already, AI assistants are helping teachers with more administrative tasks.
It is enabling them to free up time to focus on helping individual learners who need more guidance. AI is assisting learners to improve their weak points by identifying stronger and weaker skillsets when they complete online exercises. The AI backbone learns to push more questions that will help to improve the learner’s weaker knowledge areas thereby improving their overall knowledge base and results come test time.
Beyond education, which other areas of the economy are you putting your expertise to play to drive growth?
We acknowledge the place of entrepreneurship in economy buoyancy, hence, our investment in this sector. Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, but new technologies are making daily life for entrepreneurs easier, and are presenting new and exciting opportunities. It is more important than ever to produce school-leavers and graduates who have greater STEM skills and the capability to understand how to navigate and operate successfully in the new world of work.
Across Africa, entrepreneurs are embracing technology to answer some of the continent’s most pressing needs, such as access to life-saving medical care, improving financial inclusion – particularly in rural areas and improving standards of education.
Many women who become entrepreneurs out of economic necessity do not intend or have the skills to build large and successful companies. Their decision to start a business instead of seeking wage work is influenced by important constraints such as differences in skills, capital, networks, time and family formation, occupational opportunities, and safety. To uplift young female entrepreneurs, we need to ensure that they have access to a good STEM-based education and the tools necessary to capture opportunities. I am proud to be part of an organisation that is actively working towards uplifting women across the continent.
The agreement that HP Inc and UN Women signed in 2019 during the UN General Assembly, will help to advance education, entrepreneurship and digital learning for women and girls in five priority countries viz Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Morocco. HP firmly believes we have a role to play, and have already entered into a number of partnerships with organisations such as Girl Rising, whose aim is to ensure that girls around the world are educated and empowered so they can reach their full potential. In South Africa, we collaborated with institutions such as the Ekurhuleni West TVET College in Katlehong, and its Centre of Entrepreneurship Rapid Incubator. We also opened an HP LIFE Centre — a more formal, technology-enabled hub to facilitate learning, collaboration and entrepreneurship in a physical, face-to-face setting.
We also expanded into Africa with HP LIFE opening in Nigeria, where more than 5,000 new users joined the program in 2018. I see us partnering with more African schools who would receive HP Learning Studios, to support thousands of students across the Continent.
Youth unemployment is a major economy loss for Africa. What role is HP playing to address this challenge ?
The digital era is constantly requiring new skill sets and opening new roles that hadn’t been thought of 10 or 20 years ago. This underscores the need to prepare the youths as well as upskill existing workforce to increase the positive impact of technology in Africa.HP is really playing into this to drive needed change.
I am hugely proud to work for a company that shares the same values as me, and I am convinced, more than ever, that HP can make a difference in peoples’ lives across the continent.