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Are we ready for a revolution?
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Are we ready for a revolution?

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The fourth industrial revolution is blurring the lines between technological advancements and human life. But how many people understand what this really means? Commonwealth Correspondent Bonolo Madibe, a 22-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent from South Africa, speaks to two Silicon Valley experts to find out how this revolution could benefit Africa.

In 2016 at the World Economic Forum,  government officials, academics and leading business figures were introduced to the “fourth industrial revolution”. There is no denying that technologies are increasingly playing a critical role in enhancing the human experience, with artificial intelligence (AI), voice-activated assistance and facial recognition becoming a part of our everyday lives.

Innovation and creativity are key to the pillars of the fourth industrial revolution. But for many like myself, this process is often met with a great deal of skepticism—perhaps rooted in a lack of understanding of what it actually means.

So, I sat down with Alysia Silberg and Christian Meyers, two Silicon Valley-based venture capitalists, to demystify some of the concerns around this process and to gain a better understanding of how it could potentially benefit Africa’s economic development. 

Recognising a limit in taking a Silicon Valley/U.S.-centric approach, both Alysia and Christian, who dub  themselves “pro-African” venture capitalists, emphasise that from a global opportunity perspective, it helps everyone if all of the talent, market and development opportunities in Africa come online.

For Alysia, who was born in South Africa, infrastructure and government responses to technological advancements pose some of the greatest barriers for start-ups and entrepreneurs in Africa.

Despite the continent’s young and eager labour force, some have questioned whether Africa is ready for the fourth industrial revolution, particularly as access to technology and the internet often come at a cost that is too high for the average African.

But how do we reconcile this unfortunate reality with the aspiration of not being ‘left behind’? While such structural inequalities cannot be disregarded, Alysia acknowledges that “the fundamentals represent immediate opportunities, (and) addressing those fundamentals then creates a second set of opportunities which will only prove beneficial through a partnership with African governments.”

However, she notes that although they often mean well, working with African governments is cumbersome and “it takes a certain, very open-minded government to actually come to the party and actually solve (the problem) in a timely manner.”

“In order for us to realise our full potential we need to look globally—especially at Africa—because there are talented teams there that lead capital, and there are huge market opportunities that haven’t been addressed.”

“It’s about (fostering) a relationship between us as Africans and Silicon Valley (in order) to solve a lot of these problems… it has to be mutually beneficial for everyone,” she adds. 

For Christian, there is a limit to what the market can address because sometimes they are not thinking beyond the U.S.—or they are (just) thinking about needs that are based on their local experience.

“In order for us to realise our full potential we need to look globally—especially at Africa—because there are talented teams there that lead capital, and there are huge market opportunities that haven’t been addressed,” he adds.

But, what does it mean to champion enhanced technological skills and digitalisation when the majority of those who live in poverty lack basic literacy and numerical skills?

It is evident that while governments on the continent welcome a  focus on Africa’s potential contribution to the fourth industrial revolution, they are failing to keep on top of such fast-paced technological advancements, meaning that there is a risk of this form of industrialisation further entrenching existing inequalities on the continent.

But as both Alysia and Christian suggested during our conversation, perhaps there are two things to think about—the near future and the distant future. 

In the near future of Africa’s economic development, there will be a lot of transformation of systems and foundation building. This means that governments will have to create an ecosystem of investors that are reliably committed to investing in African companies at all stages.

Therefore, the first major changes will have a cultural and systemic function that involves positive steps towards accessible financial systems, better infrastructure, social inclusion, encouragement of STEM education and a mindset for both independence and collaboration.             

“These foundational accomplishments are often less visible,” Christian argues, “so they can actually be harder to focus on and invest in, but they are important achievements; they are the soil in which a thriving venture economy grows.”

It is clear that in the distant future it is only through effective government participation, regulation, proper management of capital and the forces of technology that the fourth industrial revolution can encourage greater equality, freedom, security and prosperity.

“Harnessing technology and venture  entrepreneurship could be a key tool and factor in accelerating the African dream in a way that is good for Africa and the world,” says Alysia. 

 A key takeaway coming out of this conversation with Alysia and Christian is that Africa is developing rapidly, but often in incomplete ways. The fourth industrial revolution can play a significant role in meeting the fundamental needs of African people, while simultaneously offering new and unique opportunities for the continent’s economic development.

But governments must respond aptly and effectively so that this revolution can benefit the majority, and not reinforce the same structures of inequality that were enabled by the first three industrial revolutions.

There is no denying that the economic benefits of the fourth industrial revolution are unparalleled, but it is up to governments to ensure that the quality of education is maintained at a high standard across all levels, to ensure an equitable distribution of resources and the opportunities that arise from such rapid technological developments.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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About Bonolo Madibe: I have a keen interest in stimulating innovative solutions to social inequalities through policy and research. With an academic background in International Development and Gender Studies, and professional experience in social impact, I am firm believer that many of the issues facing the African continent can be overcome through evidence based and expert-led decision making. 

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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