At a recent conference in Johannesburg, a young college student posed a question to the Presidency of South Africa: “If we are introducing into basic education new subjects to be competitive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, like coding, why do we have ministers of education that are over 60?”
It was an interesting glimpse into the mind of a demographic most impacted by the digital era. If you look at any digitally transforming organisation, what sets the leaders apart is not just a clear digital strategy, but culture and leadership poised to execute it. Employees today expect business leaders to be nimble, embracing digital tools to remain competitive and make strategic decisions with the future in mind.
This student’s question demonstrates that the expectation on governments is no different. As African countries work to become global leaders in the digital revolution, young people are looking for a tech-savvy and digitally mature government to boldly set the standards, and lead the way.
The benefits of a digitally skilled government
The benefits of a digitally-savvy government are many. Armed with technologies and the capabilities to use them, governments are empowered to be more agile, efficient, data-driven, transparent and connected to citizens. With machine learning and skills in data analytics, policymakers can be more forward-thinking, regularly re-examining policies, discovering new opportunities and mitigating risks for more productive and inclusive growth.
A Deloitte digital survey also found that public sector leaders who understand digital trends and technologies are three times more likely to provide appropriate support for transformation, compared to those who do not. High levels of involvement with technology typically result in greater investment, broader adoption and a greater number of successful implementations.
In a recent IFC report, African governments were noted as having a slow and insufficient policy response to digital transformation. Respondents called for accelerated efforts in developing clear-cut digital agendas. This includes modernising school curriculum, training teachers, expanding broadband access, promoting a vibrant business climate by encouraging competition, and enforcing cybersecurity.
With more digital champions in government, imagine how much more rapidly Africa could implement this transformation, and advance its position as a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
In 2018, for example, the United Arab Emirates announced that it wanted to become the world’s most prepared country for artificial intelligence, leading in AI research, development and innovation. To do so, they began efforts at government level, appointing the first dedicated Minister of AI. The effort was applauded for ensuring “a necessary focus for implementation as opposed to just talking” and ensuring solutions are based on the latest understanding of technology.
Partners in the journey
For Africa to truly succeed – and lead – in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, innovative startups, technology companies and smart businesses need to collaborate on building an ecosystem where everyone benefits from technology. Leading this charge needs to be progressive governments with clear roadmaps that both define and enable the digital horizon. Key to this is an investment in skills to launch, support and even challenge digital initiatives.
This is an investment Microsoft wholeheartedly supports. Through initiatives like 4Afrika, we’re supporting governments in developing their digital capabilities and co-creating solutions for growth. Our Skills Labs and internship programmes are providing governments with digital skills, while our MySkills4Afrika volunteer programme has worked with local ministries in developing eHealth and eEducation solutions. We also have long-running partnerships with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), working closely together on creating policies and regulations that promote ICT growth and digital economies.
African governments are excited by the possibilities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in driving inclusive growth, job creation, service delivery and poverty reduction. What they need now is to take the lead.
The article is authored by Amrote Abdella, Regional Director, Microsoft 4Afrika and first appeared here.
Feature image courtesy: IMF