Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation
Many emerging countries lack the core communication and IT infrastructures that are needed by large and small businesses alike. Data and the information technology that generates, collects, and analyzes it is critical to building a resilient infrastructure that ensures sustainable industrialization – goal 9 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Technologies such as mobile and cloud services provide an opportunity for smaller enterprises to adopt the latest innovations without massive investments in data centers.
The poorest in Western countries are better off economically than they were 300 years ago. We can thank the Industrial Revolution for that. Most modern countries offer some form of social security, ensuring that even the unemployed have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over their heads.
Industrialization radically transformed the lives of everyday people. They left the countryside for cities in droves. Some people were looking for adventure and opportunity; others were forced to find work out of desperation. In the process, their jobs, families, and daily activities took on a whole new shape. And industrialization improved their financial status. Home ownership, appliances, flushing toilets, hot water, electricity, cars, leisure, and entertainment were part of this new world.
In stark contrast, many of the poorest countries have not yet transitioned into industrial nations. Agriculture-sector employment in sub-Saharan Africa continues to see preindustrial numbers: 61% in Kenya, 79% in Ethiopia, 80% in Mozambique, 85% in Burkina Faso, and 92% in Burundi, to name a few. In comparison, less than 2% of the workforce is employed in agriculture in the United States, with similar numbers in Canada, Britain, France, and the rest of the Western world.
Infrastructure was foundational to achieving industrialization and its resulting prosperity. At the core of the Industrial Revolution were innovations in banking and investment to help fund technological invention and production. New factories developed along rivers and near coal fields, close to the energy sources necessary to drive emerging industrial complexes. Waterways, railways, and roads connected new goods to national and, eventually, global markets. Infrastructure spurred on – and developed along with – industrialization.
The infrastructure necessary for industrialization won’t be the same for Africa as it was for 18th-century Europe and North America. For starters, we know a lot more about how to build industrial processes that are more sustainable. For example, less than 20% of the roads are paved in sub-Saharan Africa, but drones may provide a new way to get goods to market. Energy is critical for production, but renewable electrical production may become the norm.
Data and the information technology that generates, collects, and analyzes it is critical to building a resilient infrastructure that ensures sustainable industrialization. Many emerging countries lack the core IT infrastructure needed by large and small businesses alike. However, mobile technologies and cloud services provide an opportunity for smaller enterprises to adopt the latest technology without massive investments in data centers. The rapid evolution of blockchain technology offers innovative opportunities to create transparency along business processes, be it in food or fashion supply chains or even financial services. To enable this type of digital innovation, Alphabet Inc. plans to deploy balloon Internet in Kenya in 2019 to provide a core infrastructure for motivated entrepreneurs.
Where in Africa is the next Thomas Newcomen, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or Marie Curie? Whoever and wherever they are, they will create small businesses that grow into large enterprises employing thousands.
Digitalization offers the opportunity to innovate and create new business models without capital-intense corporate infrastructures. Especially in emerging countries, social entrepreneurs can leverage the latest technology to solve problems and improve quality of life in their local communities. Global corporations increasingly tap into these kinds of open innovation to accelerate their ideation speed and volume in order to meet the needs of their markets. They invite young talent to competitions to solve existing business challenges, which are, in many cases, related to global challenges like plastic pollution in the oceans, gender equality, and even the focused individual global goals established by the United Nations. At the World Economic Forum, for example, SAP and Google launched a partnership to cosponsor a sustainability contest for social entrepreneurs called Circular Economy 2030.
Empowering entrepreneurs with the tools and support to make their dreams a reality takes a team effort between nonprofits such as Endeavor Global Inc., private enterprises such as Compartamos Banco and SAP. With joined forces, we are making it our vision and purpose to raise a new generation of innovators for Africa and the rest of the developing world. We are already starting to see countries such as Kenya enjoy the positive impact of digital innovation and development. Another example is Pakistan, where digital transformation based on best business practices and automation is creating positive impulses across almost all industry sectors from service industries to classical production, such as agriculture, fashion, and the capital-intensive oil and gas industry.
We are committed to helping countries around the world innovate and build a resilient infrastructure for sustainable industrialization.
Developing countries have rarely had the opportunity to leapfrog several generations of industrialization and innovation, as they do today. Technology-enabled process automation offers the opportunity to profoundly upgrade efficiencies in resources utilization and the ability to access unprecedented market opportunities.