On 11 July CDF Executive Director, Emma Kaye, attended a digital disruption workshop facilitated by Ian Merrington of Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi) with Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT) for the Western Cape Government. Emma had this to say,
“It was an honour to be invited to attend the workshop on digital disruption and how it will affect businesses and citizens of the Western Cape. Technology can no longer be seen as a vertical business sector but as a horizontal necessity across all areas of business. This is, and will continue to have, an accelerated economic, social and cultural impact on the Western Cape. It is inspiring to know that the Department of Economic Trade and Tourism are embracing the conversation to ensure that there is preparation and consideration for these inevitable changes.”
Building a digital ecosystem at a ‘whole community’ level
It is digital disruption on a horizontal level that will make it possible to transform whole communities who have, to date, not had the infrastructure or financial wherewithal to begin to change from being passive consumers to active members of a digital society.
During the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban in May 2017, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services, along with local and global stakeholders announced a partnership to connect 22 million unconnected South Africans to the internet by 2020.
The campaign is called Internet for All, and promises to address the current barriers to connectivity by making the Internet accessible, affordable and all-encompassing for all South Africans.
What would reasonably priced Internet connectivity and a readily available community-wide digital ecosystem mean to people living at a grassroots level?
For one it would mean that the crippling cost of data would be a thing of the past. It would also serve the purpose of improving access to information, education, job opportunities and better health care. It would help micro and small enterprises to boost their e-commerce offering, allowing them to reach larger markets at lower costs, and to participate more fully in the mushrooming digital economy.
Ultimately Internet access needs to be widely accessible, cheaper and provide people with compelling reasons to go online. In her paper, The Internet as a Tool for Social Development, Paula Uimonen of United Nations Research Institute for Social Development in Switzerland writes: “Although the innovations in digital technology are impressive, we must not forget that technology in itself is not a determinant of change, only a facilitator. As with any other technology, it is the social context within which these new technologies are introduced and, more importantly, implemented, that determines their usage and impact.”
So, how does the Internet uplift communities?
The big returns from digital ecosystem at a community-wide level are access to services, personal growth and job opportunities, provided that relevant content is linguistically, culturally, and economically more tailored to the needs of the previously offline. In order for the Internet to impact whole communities, digital ambassadors are required to help those who until now have inhabited an off-line world and assist them in the shift to being active digital citizens.
The CDF is looking to play an active role in the area of demand led Internet usage. We believe that it takes a community to raise a digital community. It’s a big job. It is when government, civil society and the private sector work together at a grassroots level to create digital inclusion that the potential to close the digital divide will become a reality.