Photo: GEN President Jonathan Ortmans meets South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Like most entrepreneurs and business-minded people, I enthusiastically followed the sessions and outcomes at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. The theme for this year’s forum was Globalisation 4.0. In a nutshell, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is aptly defined by Professor Klaus Schwab in his book as “a technological revolution that is blurring the lines between the physical, the digital and biological spheres”. The 4IR is marked by technology breakthroughs in several things such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, blockchains and many others.
From a broader perspective, the 4IR invigorates open connection between technology and markets. It is heavily knowledge-based and requires new sets of competencies. The 4IR predicts and ‘anticipates’ how the market and the way we live will be disrupted by a digital revolution. MinHwaLee et al in their piece on 4IR published on Journal of Open Innovation also highlighted that due to disruptions, which have become visible in nearly every sector, including the labour market, the 4IR poses both a threat and an opportunity to various nations and societies. In order to eliminate the threat, countries must embrace the 4IR and rather concentrate on finding opportunities to boost efficiency and productivity that will open new markets and drive economic growth. Few years ago, at one of the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summits (GES) held at Stanford University, Mark Zuckerberg sharing a stage with fomer U.S. President Barack Obama predicted that connectivity and digital transformation will revolutionise the way we do things.The recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) portrayed an emerging world economy that is increasingly based on the transfer of data instead of physical goods. Of importance to me, being the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa, was that the GEN Global President Mr Jonathan Ortmans had the invaluable opportunity to meet with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the WEF.
Not only did they exchange ideas, they also discussed the impact of the 4IR in the entrepreneurial space and how start-ups can take advantage of the opportunities presented by it. Start-ups are still the most crucial and powerful problem-solvers, solutions-providers and job-creators of tomorrow and any country which fails to empower them, does so at its economic peril. These four investments will set us apart among various countries as the 4IR dawns on us: the ability to develop young coders; the synchronisation through the internet of computing devices in our everyday lives allowing us to send and receive data (IOT); and aligning this with machine intelligence that helps to predict, work and react like humans (AI) and the adoption of 5G mobile technologies that will help improve our network efficiency, productivity, decrease latency times with bandwith expected to reach 1GB per second.
Arguably one of the world’s most successful self-starters, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, opened his session at the WEF in style when asked whether he encountered fears or doubts over the course of building Alibaba. His response was magical. “Of course I was scared and had doubts. But I believed someone, if not us, would win. There are no experts of tomorrow, only of yesterday.”
He added that “in business, never worry about competition, never worry about the pressure. If you worry about pressure, don’t be a businessman. If you create value, there is opportunity. Today the whole world worries. That means there is great opportunity.”
So what keeps Jack Ma awake at night? “Nothing! If I don’t sleep well, the problem will still be there. If I sleep, I have a better chance to fight it.”
Taking into account the above, to respond to the 4IR from a national and institutional perspective, it is important to note that the waves of innovation and new paradigms will bring about development, deployment and exploitation of technologies.
However, the initiation and growth of these areas are strongly affected by the creative characteristics of organizations and, more specifically, our youth. Indeed, at the centre of the creation and growth of any technological solution, there are always the aspirations, curiosities, the creativity, competencies and passion of the people who have imagined, prototyped and tested a technology.
As a country, we need to acknowledge that successful countries bred from the 4IR will be those that recognize that, as much as they must become more technologically advanced, they also need to recognize the centrality of people (its citizens) and that the most human-based distinguishing factors will increase their importance as key value drivers affecting the creation and delivery of value.
In Africa, we have to brainstorm and develop strategic avenues to get our youth involved in the 4IR, while simultaneously creating appropriate platforms that will guarantee their participation in the highly lucrative and game/life changing digital revolution. Of course, creating an environment of this nature and magnitude is never going to be a walk in the park. It needs sustained dedication and commitment from all stakeholders. The good news is that lots of young people in townships, at various incubators and even in our start-up campus at 22 on Sloane are already developing some ground-breaking innovations in gaming, robotics and other digital disciplines. BUT – how do we ensure that this environment and its economics can provide them with the much-needed access to commercialisation?
In closing, the 4IR future does look quite bright for start-ups and I’d like to share a few success stories that’s just taken place this year. Last year, we had the opportunity to partner with Facebook and WhereIsMyTransport startup team in hosting their ‘First Connect Series of Hackathon’ at 22 on Sloane where WhereIsMyTransport aims to improve daily city travel by mapping both formal and informal modes of transport and making its data available to cities, transport operators and passengers across the world. The company has raised $1.85M in a Series A funding round, backed by mobility-focused venture fund Liil Ventures and prior investor Goodwell Investments, a Dutch/South African impact investment firm.
Andela, the company building distributed engineering teams with Africa’s top software developers, also announced the completion of a $100M Series D funding led by Al Gore. The round was led by Generation Investment Management with participation from existing investors, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV, Spark Capital and CRE Venture Capital. The most recent financing brings Andela’s total venture funding to an impressive $180M. Andela simply recruits developers in Lagos and various other African cities, trains them and connects them with Tech firms in US and Europe.
Proof that the 4IR is officially open for business and everyone’s invited, we must take lessons from Jack Ma quote, “there are no experts of tomorrow, only of yesterday”, there is so much opportunities for young people to build for tomorrow. What they need is access and platforms to show their real potential.