Cape Town - Last week, the Seda Nelson Mandela Bay ICT Incubator (SNII) hosted international and local academia, private sector partners and social entrepreneurs at is ICT business incubator facility.
New ideas were presented to show how technology innovation can create a better future in this country during the business case review of the International Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Technology.
It was found that there are four bridges to cross if SA is committed to harnessing entrepreneurial ingenuity to improve the status quo of societal and social challenges.
Overcoming fear of technology
The first is that entrepreneurs must overcome their fear of technology. Often, a distorted view exists that technology is only reserved for the educated and privileged few.
Entrepreneurs with the appetite and willingness to innovate can be hugely and commercially successful, when they create solutions with technology to address social problems.
Bridging the digital divide
The second challenge is crossing the digital divide. The number of Internet users in the country has increased from 100 000 in 1994 to 11.2 million today, according to data from research company World Wide Worx.
However, a fifth of the country’s population is being excluded from access to the internet.
Low levels of Internet connectivity and access to information prohibit tech entrepreneurs from creating solutions, because those who are in genuine need of their products or services do not have the means or resources to be part of an information society.
The unbundling of broadband in South Africa would change lives. It would enable the most remotely located communities the opportunity to empower themselves through technology, and also offer social entrepreneurs a connection and pipeline to South Africans that are in desperate need of technological solutions.
Government embracing technology more
Thirdly, it is vital for the South African government to champion the use of technology in the implementation of their mandates. There are greater results and tangible wins to be gained if ICT were to be driven in matters like health and education. Technology should be embraced, not only in aspirational and strategic plans, but in tangible implementation at a grassroots level too.
Good progress is already being made. ICT4Education and ICT4Health are two areas in which our government has shown immense support for social entrepreneurs. There has been a considerable improvement in the provision of infrastructure and funding to these initiatives.
It is the responsibility of government to define and articulate the challenges, which in turn provide a compass and context for the social entrepreneur to innovate. Problems should be identified, and tech entrepreneurs should be approached to conceive products and services that will empower government to realise its developmental mandate.
Public private partnerships
Finally, the contribution of the private sector is vital. Here, public private partnerships are the key to a burgeoning culture of technological social entrepreneurship.
A good example is Project Iziswe’s roll-out of Wi-Fi for all in the city of Tshwane - the first realisation of the initiative’s effort to deploy government-funded, free Wi-Fi throughout the country in public spaces in low-income communities. The technology hubs that have been established are a direct result of successful collaboration between private sector companies with the support of government funding.
The National Development Plan 2030 in fact acknowledges the importance of public private partnerships.
Continuous engagement with all participants of society enables a greater understanding of societal challenges and sustainable solutions – and the possibilities of improving people’s lives through technology are endless.