Youth and digital entrepreneurship in Africa

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I had the honour of chairing the first Africa Youth Engagement Summit held in Mauritius earlier this month by Extensia and the Mauritius ICT Ministry. Youth represent the future of regions such as Africa, which has one of the most youthful populations of any continent.

The event featured high-level snapshots of what Africa’s ministries, mobile operators and educators are doing for their online youth, as well on-the-ground insights with case studies and workshops on entrepreneurship.

The conference profiled the activities of ICANN, AfriNIC, UN agencies (UNDP, UNICEF) and Wikimedia Foundation in the region, as well as a range of technology providers. Country profiles were presented from across the continent, featuring Mauritius, Rwanda, Kenya, Namibia, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Angola, and The Gambia.

Activities in Africa in these categories are summarised in Table 1, based on my ‘8 Cs’ framework of the knowledge society: connectivity, content, community, commerce, capacity, culture, cooperation and capital.

Youth in Africa will be truly empowered if they have affordable access to digital media, content generation tools, community support, incentives to contribute to the knowledge society, pro-active culture of collaboration, and capacity building for entrepreneurship.

Table 1: ‘8 Cs’ of the Knowledge Society: Youth engagement in Africa

ParameterInitiatives in Africa
ConnectivityFree WiFi (Sierra Leone), low-cost laptops (Kenya) and tablets (Mauritius), schemes for ICT access for people with disabilities (Egypt), rich-media campus networks (Nigeria)
ContentDigitised textbooks and e-learning modules (Sierra Leone)
CommunityIT clubs and community service centres (Egypt), mobile ICT labs in buses for rural communities (Angola)
CapacityAIS/AFRINIC Fellowship Programme, gender inclusion policies and mentorship (The Gambia), research networks + certifications in IT training (Nigeria), internship programmes (Angola), capacity building for SMEs (Egypt)
CommerceE-commerce laws (Namibia), m-Pesa (Kenya)
CultureCommon spaces for innovation (Angola’s Media Libraries network)
CapitalInvestment and incubation for startups (Kenya and Mauritius), Societal Acceleration Platform (Namibia)
CooperationAlliances with Microsoft and IBM for startups (Mauritius), Southern Africa Innovation Support (SAIS) Program, partnerships between Wikimedia foundation and mobile operators

Egypt regards ‘digital socio-economic development’ as the way forward to prosperity, freedom and social equity. Countries such as Kenya and Namibia are formulating Vision 2030 ICT statements, which include a youth focus.

In the region, Kenya stands out as a hub for ICT startup activity, with entrepreneurs developing products and services for bulk SMS management, polling, content mapping, and social media gateways (see the work of Web Hive in this regard here). Design thinking is being promoted as a discipline, and crowdfunding is emerging as an attractive funding option.

The Mauritius Technopreneurship programme provides not just technical support via hackathons and bootcamps but also capacity building in communication skills and business plan writing for startups.

Challenges in Africa will continue to be in improving rural access to ICTs, creating content and services for agricultural communities, accelerating social innovation, and strengthening inter-ministry cooperation for youth initiatives.

Encouraging moves from the point of view of youth include the emergence of BPO initiatives in many countries, followed by startup hubs and incubators. Governments can do a lot to accelerate e-government services and thus lift the tide for a broader range of e-services and entrepreneurship.