Africa's youth needs more than just tech­nol­ogy

One of Africa's chal­lenges is that the skills of the youth are not im­prov­ing, com­pared to global stan­dards.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - By Cathy Smith Cathy Smith, Man­ag­ing Direc­tor at SAP Africa

We of­ten read about the num­ber of jobs that our youth are go­ing to be do­ing in 10 or 15 years that don't even ex­ist yet. The con­ven­tional wis­dom is that we can pre­pare them for this "un­known fu­ture" by giv­ing them ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy, the In­ter­net and the lan­guage they will need to talk to the ma­chines.

But I'm not con­vinced that ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy alone is the an­swer for our youth's hopes and as­pi­ra­tions. I think they want – and de­serve – a whole lot more. I re­cently sat on a panel dis­cus­sion at the launch of #shein­no­vates, an ini­tia­tive with UN Women to help em­power women and girls across Africa to cap­i­talise on the op­por­tu­ni­ties of the 21st cen­tury econ­omy.

What I ex­pected was a dis­cus­sion around lofty is­sues like clos­ing the STEM skills gap for the next wave of fe­male tech lead­ers and en­trepreneurs, and un­lock­ing tech­nol­ogy's ca­pac­ity to drive so­cial good across the con­ti­nent. What I got was a wakeup call.

Lis­ten­ing to these young peo­ple, I came to a mas­sive re­al­i­sa­tion. Yes, young peo­ple in Africa need ac­cess to the in­ter­net, and tech­nol­ogy re­sources. But what they need more than that is guid­ance on how to take the first steps in this dig­i­tal world. They don't just need op­por­tu­ni­ties: they need to know how to take the first steps to get there. They need role mod­els. They need guid­ance. A frame­work. Safe spa­ces. For our youth, the big­gest is­sue is not the tech­nol­ogy, it's the con­tent.

So how do we, as African busi­ness lead­ers and so­ci­ety, be­come rel­e­vant to our youth? What is cor­po­rate Africa do­ing about cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment for learn­ing? Where are the role mod­els in our com­mu­ni­ties – specif­i­cally, fe­male role mod­els?

One of Africa's chal­lenges is that the skills of the youth are not im­prov­ing, com­pared to global stan­dards. This is in spite of the nu­mer­ous pro­grammes be­ing run across the con­ti­nent to raise tech skills. Part of the prob­lem is that many of these ini­tia­tives are one-off events. What we re­ally need is sus­tain­able pro­grammes, with mea­sur­able long-term goals.

As SAP, we're us­ing ini­tia­tives like Africa Code Week to drive sus­tain­able learn­ing im­pact across Africa. We're not just in­still­ing dig­i­tal lit­er­acy and cod­ing skills in the young gen­er­a­tion. We're work­ing with a range of part­ners and com­mu­ni­ties to build last­ing com­mu­nity ca­pac­ity and knowl­edge.

Our First Lego League doesn't just in­spire chil­dren to be­come in­volved in pro­gram­ming and ro­bot­ics. It teaches them valu­able life lessons that will help in the dig­i­tal world: how to re­search a com­mu­nity prob­lem, and to solve it by work­ing to­gether to cre­ate a so­lu­tion. It teaches core val­ues like in­clu­sion, team­work, fun, mak­ing an im­pact, and learn­ing to present in pub­lic. These aren't tech­nol­ogy skills. They're life skills. And they're ex­actly what our youth is cry­ing out for.

As cor­po­rate Africa, we need to cre­ate more long-term ini­tia­tives. These ini­tia­tives should be part of the com­pany strat­egy, and not a CSR pro­gramme. Why? What we've found is that when a pro­gramme is viewed as CSR, it comes across as a "by the way" ini­tia­tive, or a char­i­ta­ble hand­out. When it's re­lated to the busi­ness, it's fo­cused, driven and sus­tain­able.

We've also got to get more cre­ative in our youth-fo­cused pro­grammes. We need to tai­lor them to the unique per­son­al­i­ties, chal­lenges and even age groups of each group of kids. Cre­at­ing a "sausage ma­chine" isn't go­ing to help any­one make their way in the bold new dig­i­tal age we live in.

We have a real op­por­tu­nity to seed the growth of our fu­ture cit­i­zens, who will play key roles in the econ­omy, gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety. It is up to us to take it.

Young Africans us­ing lap­top com­put­ers

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