Invest in innovative digital enterprises to unlock Africa’s transformation
First published on March 8, 2023, in Nation
In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding better pay, the right to vote, and shorter working hours, planting the seed for International Women’s Day (IWD).
And yet, today, over a century later, gender equality remains elusive. In 2020, it was predicted it would take 99.5 years to achieve gender equality, and in 2021, this increased by one generation to 135.6 years.
This year’s IWD theme, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, ignites a conversation on a gender-responsive approach to technology, innovation and digital education among women and girls.
According to the World Bank, by 2022, 60 per cent of global GDP was digitised. Imagine the extent of impact and disruption this deals to our education systems and structures, economic strategies etc.
Girls and women continue to have less access to digital technologies. Urgent action is needed to ensure the benefits of digital transformation are distributed equally, ensuring women and girls fully participate in digital economies.
Bridging the gender digital divide must be a priority for us all. We must use innovative solutions and harness the power of technology to address pressing and urgent global challenges.
The UN Women’s ‘Innovation for Gender Equality’ publication notes that practices around innovation could accelerate women’s empowerment and gender equality, e.g. partnerships with tech start-ups and programmes with marginalised beneficiaries.
The publication further states that the global digital and technology economy offers immense potential for transparency, accountability, and public/private sector service delivery.
Industries like Fintech, e-commerce, and social impact enterprises, including agri-tech, are revolutionising business globally and providing solutions for today’s pressing development challenges.
In Africa, the tech sector is rapidly growing, positioning the continent’s economy for a continued ascent. While the rise of Africa’s digital economy should be celebrated, inclusive participation remains a bottleneck towards realising the sector’s full potential.
We must incorporate women in the digital economy to leverage the immense opportunities for achieving sustainable development, reducing inequality, and hastening business and market integration in the continent.
The African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy recognises digital transformation as a driving force for sustainable, inclusive, and innovative growth, setting a goal for digital inclusion for every African by 2030.
To achieve this, we require concerted efforts to eliminate barriers for African women, girls, and marginalised communities to participate in the digital economy and to create a favourable environment for tech-oriented entrepreneurship.
Fixing the leaky pipeline, AECF’s (Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund) investee portfolio has seen a rise in the cadre of women-owned/led companies adopting technology and innovation to resolve challenges in rural Africa.
Further down the pipeline, these low-tech innovations are a game-changer for communities in different regions.
In Zimbabwe, Zvikomborero Farms, is revolutionising their training to women farmers on effective livestock production by adopting simple, innovative technology.
Located in Featherstone, 120 kilometres from Harare, the agribusiness enterprise has become a centre of farming excellence, imparting skills and knowledge to many aspiring women farmers nationwide through mobile-based platforms, including WhatsApp.
The enterprise has also incorporated an online shop on its website for easier access to its products by customers.
Across the border in Zambia, like in most African countries, off-grid rural communities live in inaccessible terrain and providing them affordable clean energy requires innovative solutions.
Tackling this challenge, WidEnergy Africa, a women-led enterprise, specialises in the last-mile distribution of clean and reliable energy by trickling down low-tech, affordable solutions to more than 2,300 households and 250 small businesses in the region.
Pushing the envelope even further, WidEnergy Africa has adopted a pay-as-you-go model in partnership with telco companies to offer affordable solar solutions to communities across 11 districts in Zambia.
Despite inadequate infrastructure, these entrepreneurs are among many small and medium enterprises on the continent embracing technology and innovative solutions to seize new markets and a network of potential partners – expanding horizons for the vulnerable in their communities.
Africa’s economy is rife for digital transformation. We must harness technology as a driver of innovation and growth. Implementing digital and innovative technologies cannot be achieved in a vacuum.
Policymakers should apply a gender lens in the prioritisation and implementation of well-calibrated frameworks, invest in infrastructure, and cultivate an innovation ecosystem that embraces gender equity. It will not happen immediately, but we should press forward for greater progress.
Development partners, too, should find effective ways of delivering opportunities for transformative technology to help accelerate the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
We need progress through targeted investments in inclusive business models and enterprises – investment in practice and action. A sustainable, innovative, technological revolution driven by and centred on girls and women is much needed.
*Written by Victoria Sabula, CEO, AECF