While big business remains a substantial source of employment, small, micro and medium enterprises (SMME’s) across the world are widely acknowledged as the more prolific job creators. SMME’s are seen as agile and able to respond quickly to trends and technologies that are rapidly reshaping the global marketplace. Within the current South African context, however, township enterprises fall mainly into a category typified by subsistence-based enterprise, with few employees and low levels of technology.
Unlocking township economic potential
There remains an overriding challenge to unlock the full potential of township economies in order to generate broader economic benefits. One such benefit is a shift in entrepreneurial thinking – when survivalist entrepreneurs realise that, in truth, they are business owners who, with the right tools, can grow their businesses. As a natural progression, the benefit of growing, thriving township businesses is their ability to generate jobs and employ others.
Cape Digital Foundation believes that in and of themselves, affordable access to the Internet, teamed with fundamental digital know-how and a digital device such the ubiquitous smart phone, are the catalysts able to both create this paradigm shift in township subsistence entrepreneurs and deliver the practical tools necessary to take township businesses to the next level.
Smart Citizens in Smart Townships will transform township economies
By redressing the lack of Internet connectivity in the townships and teaching digital skills to the owners of township SMME’s, smart phones become a valuable resource as a business computer-in-hand. By the same token, among the unemployed youth the same ready access to the Internet creates a breeding ground for learning and exploration of the sort that leads to the creation of innovative startups that provide products and services to meet unique townships needs.
Smart townships have better potential to become self-sufficient financial ecosystems
While in certain instances townships are places where great wealth resides, currently very little of this wealth is generated within the township or stays in the township economy. As new township businesses develop and proliferate through the uptake and use of digital technology, the opportunity for creating a circular flow of income within the township is greatly enhanced. The benefits to this will be seen in their contribution to burgeoning business hubs and better business infrastructure; and a reduction in the need to commute great distances to work. It will give rise to more widespread use of smart technologies that enhance the communities’ health and safety, and will benefit schooling and adult education.
If South Africa is to see significant economic growth, then meaningful digital and financial inclusion of the people living in our townships and informal settlements is required, leading to the stimulation of thriving Smart Township enterprises, built by Smart Citizens who can compete in South Africa’s digital economy.