Bridging the Global Digital Gap: A way to Bolster Social Impact by ICT Entrepreneurship
Posted on Jun 10, 2016 12:00 AM by Close The Gap
May 16, 2016 marked the calendar as World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). This UN observed day aims to raise awareness to the work of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the challenges of global communication.
This year’s WTISD theme was "ICT Entrepreneurship for Social Impact" more specifically, the role of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in contributing sustainable and inclusive economic growth. As Close the Gap we welcome this year’s WTISD theme in support of the global emphasis on ICT on social impact, especially in Sub-Saharan countries.
Information and communication technologies have been increasingly bolstering global development efforts and this pattern is visible from the recent shift from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, parallel to the SDGs number 1 - end poverty, 4 - quality education, 5 - gender equality, 8 - decent work and economic growth,9 - industry, innovation and infrastructure; ICT-enabled solutions have been accelerating the access to the public services, improving education, encouraging economic growth by increasing productivity and connecting to global markets.
However, this ICT-enabled approach requires new technologies, new approaches to innovation, new intellectual perspectives, a different view on developing countries, and a new approach to innovation and implementation. These are all essential for empowering SMEs and start-ups in the developing world, in addition, a right approach can help build sustainable and inclusive communities.
One of the greatest potential of Africa is its young population, where 85% of the population is younger than 44. Young people are natural innovators and they tend to be digital natives; If given the chance, this potential will transform the socio-economic outlook of the continent. However, lack of infrastructure and access to ICT devices are major challenges to transform this potential into meaningful impact.
Close the Gap aims to bridge this digital divide by offering high-quality, pre-owned computers donated by large and medium-sized corporations or public organisations to educational, medical, entrepreneurial and social projects in developing countries. In addition to this, our DigiTruck, provides mobile IT labs (powered by solar) for those in remote areas with no access to electricity and empowers future generations. The following testimony from our DigiTruck project beneficiary in Tanzania tells about the astonishing impact of such projects.
"The computers in the DigiTruck are used throughout the day by students aged 14-20 years old. These students for one reason or another are no longer in school and were spending their days roaming the streets completely unstimulated. We have put 18 students in the DigiTruck school on the laptops every day and they are flourishing beautifully. This has prevented alcohol use and sex related social issues such as teenage pregnancy and transmission of HIV/AIDS. On top of this, these students are now gaining skills and perspective to shape their own future."
- Mandy Stein, The Founder of Neema International -
With ICT-enabled facilities, young innovators and entrepreneurs, innovative SMEs and start-ups from Africa can increase their connectivity to the global markets, boost competitiveness and build glocal’ business models. This will not only help them to be a part of global business trends, but also bring a more sustainable approach to their operations. Investments in innovative, knowledge-based projects and creating innovative regional ecosystem are therefore necessary for this progress.
For example, one of our project partners, Brothers For All, a non-profit social enterprise from South Africa, has initiated a program called Coding and Startups for offenders, ex-offenders and unemployed youth. After the necessary ICT, coding and entrepreneurial trainings, these at risk youth had increased their employability and gained necessary skills to break through the cycle of crime and unemployment. This is filling the ever growing demand in South African for skilled ICT staff. Furthermore, this initiative had created a momentum for ICT-enabled positive social impact where more and more people are signing up for Coding and Startups program.
On the other hand, empowering ICT for education is essential for school-age children to gain skills to carry on this momentum in the future. For instance, our projects prove that 15 devices are enough for an IT lab and one lab can educate up to 240 kids per week. Therefore, every device donated, refurbished and sent to a project in Africa can have a significant impact in people’s lives and future.
ICT entrepreneurship for social impact has to fit in a circular economy model. Our projects are not only about bringing digital literacy to developing countries and remote locations, it also tries to change the e-waste cycle. Facilitated by our sister organization WorldLoop, we develop projects for collection and safe recycling processes for ICT hardware used in the beneficiary projects. Local entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa receive practitioner training to increase resource yield and create efficiencies, connect with global pre-processors, and end-refiners to extract the highest amounts of fractions that are reintroduced into the market. This work has the potential to help eliminating health and environmental issues in Africa and strengthen recycling and sustainable models while creating employment opportunities.
There is still a lot to do to in Africa in terms of ICT-facilitated sustainable development models. By focusing on the factors that allow entrepreneurs to come up with innovative ideas and allow stakeholders and partners to transform those ideas into sustainable outcomes for social impact, we can achieve more.