Chairperson's Anda Ngcaba WITS SEW 2018 Speech & Presentation
Table of contents:
Born to Be Free
Future of Work
As we all know Cape Town is one of the most unequal cities in the world. Expensive neighborhoods sit beside the poorest areas in South Africa. The Cape Flats are filled with gang violence and drugs. Children in these areas are forced to live in the harshest environments our country has to offer. As Born to Be Free we are driven by the idea that in order to improve the livelihoods of the children in these areas, we need to give them digital skills which will positively impact their future. The need for digital skills amongst the youth is driven by how technology will fundamentally change everything that we do in the future.
Born to be Free
The most important question we ask ourselves as Born to Be Free is how we address the next generation in South Africa. As an organization we are driven by the idea that we need to help all youth of South African become digital natives and that this shouldn’t be limited to only the privileged. Our organization is driven by the realization that the youth need to work together to achieve sustainable growth in South Africa. We aim to give our students the opportunity to become Digital Natives in a society that only wishes to bring them down.
On Mandela day 2016 we launched the first BTBF computer center at West End Primary, Mitchells Plain. (See pictures). Upon returning to the school a month later to check up on the progress of the students, we were shocked to find that the students are not using the computers because of none of the staff had the know how to conduct a technology lesson. We had misdiagnosed the problem, we had overlooked the adequacy of teachers to design and teach computer lessons. We embarked on a plan to develop curriculum for children starting in grade 4 to be trained on Saturdays. We also arranged meetings with other school principals in the area in an attempt to involve them. The lessons started out with a six-week digital skills program.
Out first Saturday school finally arrived, I had printed out all the worksheets for our first Saturday school, and everything was set. I met our first batch of volunteers on lower campus at UCT, and a few of them with cars had agreed to drive the whole team to West End. Upon arrival, the children were filled with excitement. They were all waiting outside the school for our lessons to commence. At 9am sharp, we began our teaching. We covered the basic components of a computer and how it works. During this session, we took them through the history of the modern-day computer, the different operating systems etc. I was surprised at how many children had actually turned up, considering it was a Saturday morning. For the weeks that followed, we continued our Saturday School curriculum, but I felt like something was missing.
During my primary school years, I had the opportunity of having Information Technology as one of my subjects, and I was teaching them what I had learnt then with a few changes. That’s when it hit me, I was in primary school 10 years ago, how could I teach these children the same content I had learnt before technologies such as Cloud, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence etc. So, I opted to revamp the curriculum entirely and instead focus on teaching the children HTML and Python with the help of online assistance.
I remembered how as a kid, I had been inspired to be an entrepreneur when I realized how much information was available on the internet and how I could use It to my advantage. In grade 5, I convinced over 40 people in my class to pay me R20 for a magazine that I made myself using our computer at home that had cool pictures and information about cars, movies PlayStation games and comics I had drawn myself. To my surprise, people actually came to school with the money on Friday, and they expected to have their magazines delivered to them on Monday. Before this presentation, I tried looking for this magazine to show you guys, but unfortunately, cloud computing wasn’t a thing then, and our old CPU no longer turns on.
As Born to Be Free we consider ourselves a social impact organization. As the Youth of South Africa, we all believe we have must strive to contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals. As the Born to be Free team we look at these goals in their entirety and decided to focus our energy on No poverty, quality education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure and lastly reduced inequalities. Living in the most unequal country in the world, I believe we all have the responsibility to help the greater community in one way or another. As students, entrepreneurs etc as much as need to try and empower ourselves, we must not forget about those who did not have the same opportunities as us. After all, the markets we wish to sell products to are only as big as the general populations understanding. Furthermore, with something such as technology that is still so new, we as the youth are the only ones who fully comprehend it.
Future of work & Demographic Dividend
The World Economic Forum recently released a report about the future of work in Africa and it highlighted some thought-provoking statistics that I believe as Africans we need to take very seriously. Firstly, according to WEF by the year 2030, Sub-Saharan Africa will have a total of 25% of the global youth population (people below the age of 30). Secondly, 50% of Africa’s population will be urbanized by 2030. Now one must ask themselves, what do these statistics tell us about the future of Africa and its working force. As Africans we need to adequately prepare this young population for the future. This future I speak of is one where technology is integrated into all sectors of our lives. With the fourth industrial revolution upon us, it is evident that the youth of today need to acquire different skills than the generation which came before them. But what are these skills exactly?
The CEO of IBM Ginni Rometty devised the term New-Collar Worker in late 2016. This term coined by the CEO refers to middle-skill occupations in the technology sector. These range from application developers, cybersecurity analysts, cloud computing specialists and data scientists etc. This term plays on blue-collar jobs which were jobs that usually involved manual labour and pink-collar which are jobs that involved customer interaction. The reason why I believe this term is crucial for the future of African youth is because the businesses of the future all require new-Collar workers. In the past, mines and factories dominated the African economy and blue-collar workers were the most needed. However, this new digital world requires far more complex skills. As Africans if we do not train more new-collar workers we are at risk of falling behind once again and having to rely on workers from outside the continent to maintain our businesses. The interesting thing about new-collar skills is that they do not need to be acquired through an expensive four-year degree. These skills can be acquired online on numerous free websites. In my option, in the African context this is the perfect situation. As we know, many African students cannot afford four-year degrees. In this digital world, many of the skills we acquire during these four years are no longer useful. Hence, I am an advocate for self-teaching online. As Born to be Free, this is what we try to promote to primary and high school students. Many of the world’s top entrepreneurs were all self-taught programmers, and I believe as the African youth we can do the exact same thing.
I believe the road to entrepreneurship begins at a very young age. Before one can even completely conceptualize the idea of what being an entrepreneur is and what they can do to solve real life problems in communities around them. One thing I love about technology is that it is an enabler for innovation at an affordable price. With the creation of cloud computing, starting with Amazon EC2 in 2006 where one could easily deploy applications on virtual machines at a fraction of the cost of what it was years before. Developers globally could now save huge amounts of money on deploying applications, the only thing required was sufficient skills. If you walk around underprivileged areas in South Africa and ask the youth how they think the applications they use daily such as Facebook, twitter and Instagram were created they think they were developed in some lab by some computer geniuses and that they do not have the skills to do the same. This really upsets me because programming can be understood by anyone who puts enough time in. The biggest barrier to entry is access to technology that will give them the opportunity to learn this. This is why as Born to Be Free we strive to ensure that all youth in South Africa are given the same opportunities in this digital revolution. Gone are the days where birth defines what you can do and create in life. I know our plans may seem very ambitious, but I believe how we are solving this problem can really make a massive difference in the lives of many South Africans.
The way entrepreneurship is now easily accessible for all really warms my heart. All we need to focus on as a country is ensuring all youth have the same opportunities when it comes to technology. I’ve often been asked why to focus on people as young as grade 5(12 years old). My answer to this is that, in this technologically driven world age isn’t a barrier. Of course, one needs to know how to read and write. But programming can be learnt by anyone.
Most of my speech has been centered around technology and what our organization is doing. But I want to touch on the subject at hand, why we are all here today, innovation. When we look at the statistic I mentioned earlier, it is clear that the African youth will be the main drivers of innovation and the economy as a whole. I believe entrepreneurship itself can’t be taught in a textbook or by a motivational speaker. But if one is shown the tools that are easily available to them to create anything they want, they’ll be motivated to look around their environment, and ask themselves, “hey, how can I use these tools to solve some of these issues?”. This may seem like a stretch, but when I interact with the students of our Saturday school from the first week until the last week of our program, I see how their outlook towards life has really changed. Many of them start telling us about the problems they face at home and in the community of Mitchells Plain and how they would love to design a platform that could make people’s lives easier. For example, many of them walk home in groups, but because the school is so large, they don’t usually know everyone who lives on their street or in the surrounding area. So often, some are forced to walk alone merely because they haven’t made enough friends at the school. This is a cause for concern for many parents given the high level of gang activity in the area and kidnappings. One of our pupils Ziyad, proposed creating an app that has information about where all the children in the school live and creating a walking club, where one parent is responsible for walking all the kids home on a given day. Ziyad proposed creating an app that allows parents to sign up and state what mornings and afternoons they might be free. When I first heard this, I was blown away. Because when I was in primary school, our parents mainly drove us to school, so this was never an issue, nor did I see it as an issue.
When looking the future and the implications technologies such as Artificial Intelligence will have on the future of work, the discussion is always centered around massive job losses. However, no one ever discusses how we now have the opportunity to rewrite our future and create more meaningful jobs that will have a greater impact on society. As the youth, we have so many tools at our disposal that we can use to create the future that we want to see. We can now think about the future differently from the generations that came before us. All we need to do is make sure we are not looking at it from the same lense we use today. This is why projects such as Born to be Free are so important to me, as much as I want to be a successful entrepreneur. I also need to think about how I can help those who are less privileged than me join this digital revolution. After all, what are any of us without the communities that made us?
Before I conclude my presentation, I want to return to the subject matter at hand today, innovation. Clayton Christensen a professor at Harvard Business School differentiates between three types of innovation. They are sustaining, efficiency and market creating innovation. Sustaining innovation can be understood as what apple does when they release a new iPhone every year. All they do is add a few tweaks and improve on their iPhone from the year before. Efficiency innovation means trying to do more with less resources, a good example of this is shoprite and makro. Market creating innovation focuses on trying to bring a new product onto the market. Most of the time that product that you bring in is of a lesser quality compared to other matured companies in the market with the same product. In market creating innovation, the entrepreneur constantly tries to improve the product whilst still offering a competitive price. So, in this context of innovation, because the entrepreneur comes in at a lower price, she attracts more customers and makes the product more accessible. The problem with the sustaining innovation model, is that most times the company will improve on a product but the features that they add, most people don’t even use. This model doesn’t consider whether people are able to use the product for the better. They just need to sustain their profit margins to continue impressing investors.
In the African context, as we begin to navigate this digital economy and the fourth industrial revolution. I believe market creating innovation is what we need most as a continent. The reason I say this is because as more people begin using products that didn’t exist before, new companies gain traction and create new markets. This is where the name comes from. Also, because these companies/startups are coming from the bottom and their prices are lower, they are unable to use the same distribution channels as their competitors. Therefore, they are forced to be more creative, thus putting more people into the market. So, this is the difference between the three types of innovation. With efficiency innovation, companies are more inclined at firing people because they are trying to do more with less. With market creating innovation, you are growing the market as a whole and brining in new entrepreneurs who can help you with your distribution channel, manufacturing etc. And the more people you give access to your product, the bigger you can become. In the South African context, I believe as entrepreneurs we need to stop trying to create products for people who live in Sandton etc. The problem with this is that the middle class in South Africa is very limited. We need to utilize market creating innovation to serve all Africans. Something else I really want to stress is that innovation is not necessarily technology related. It can be in any sector. But as we our economy becomes more digital; your innovation can simply make use of technology to scale and reach more customers.
This rapidly growing youth population that I spoke about earlier is going to need us entrepreneurs to solve African problems. This is why I am an advocate for market creating innovation, because it allows for new entrants to disrupt the existing markets completely. And with this rapidly growing youth population, there is no way that the products that exist now will be able to serve everyone. Be it in the financial services industry, legal, health etc.
Before I conclude, I quickly want to get into some of the work that I am doing besides Born to Be Free. Like most of you in the room, I am also an entrepreneur and my focus is on Blockchain and the impact it will have on Africa in the next 50 years. And when I say blockchain, I don’t simply mean Bitcoin. I mean the backend technology itself. As much as I am very interested in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. I’m not going to stand here and tell you all that I was an early investor when Bitcoin stated in 2008 and that I made millions because that isn’t true. When I first heard about Bitcoin in high school, I was like this sounds cool, but I don’t have the money to invest in it. So, I ignored it, went to University, focused on my studies and Born To Be Free from 2016. It was in 2017 I started reading up about Cryptocurrencies when the market surged but I was more interested in the technology behind it and the other use cases it could possibly have. So I did some research, bought some books on amazon and began learning. It was then that I realized as much as Bitcoin is a revolutionary technology right now, the blockchain would be way more impactful in the long term. I came across interesting products that utilized the blockchain for encryption and information sharing such as Filecoin which is a blockchain based network that incentivizes users to share storage on their devices in exchange for their native cryptocurrency. I also came across platforms that allow donors and nonprofits to utilize the blockchain to track their donations.
So, after reading on this topic for months, I decided to start a blog where I could share my knowledge around cryptocurrencies and blockchain for free. After all, I had acquired all this knowledge simply through reading and online research. One other reason that prompted me to start this blog was that I realized there were people being scammed into paying exorbitant amounts for knowledge that they could simply find online. Also, I believed one way I could truly test my knowledge was by producing papers online that could be reviewed by my peers in this space.
One of the most exciting aspect of Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain in my opinion is the concept of Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s). To describe them briefly, an ICO is the process where a blockchain startup raises money through selling their native token. Before this can happen, the startup must produce a whitepaper which details what their project is about and how they intend on making money. The Securities Exchange Commission in the USA differentiates between security tokens which are tokens that are purchased with the hopes of making money through rising prices, and utility tokens which are tokens that need to be used to purchase a particular product service from the blockchain startup. The reason why I am an advocate for tokenization because it gives startups new ways to raise capital. Unfortunately, the regulatory environment around ICO’s has been very weak, and lots of investors have been scammed.
However, I envision an Africa where regulations are able to ensure that startups which wish to raise money through ICO’s must register with a regulatory body. After this, all they should be required to do is release quarterly reports to the public (much like the stock exchange). At the moment global capital markets are dominated by banks and venture capital firms. In South Africa banks are the main player when it comes to investing in companies, thus they are able to dictate what innovation is and isn’t. A regulated ICO environment would open new avenues for entrepreneurs to get funding from everyday people who are not professional investors, but who would like to help entrepreneurs. Also. the decentralized manor of the blockchain can also allow investors to track their investments. Top level decisions can be stipulated by a smart contract and investors can have the opportunity to vote remotely. This is the digital economy that I envision for Africa.