Africa Business Forum: Technology Revolutionising African Development

My colleagues and I from Trade Division and Irish Aid attended the Africa Business Forum this morning, kindly hosted by Microsoft at their Sandyford headquarters. The event was organised by the Irish Exporters Association and Emerald Freight and was the fourth of five held this year (the fifth will be on 3rd December). Our MC for the event was Sean Findlay of Geoscience.

From the presentations, it is clear that technology is allowing African countries to leapfrog their economic development: put simply, African economies do not have to replicate the 18th century financial institution building that laid the groundwork for European economic development. In many ways, the private sector – broadly defined to include individuals as economic actors – is forging ahead and dragging government development along with them. The clearest illustration of this is in mobile phones: in African countries it is becoming commonplace for more citizens to have mobile phone than bank accounts. This is opening a huge market for mobile banking and payment services: already 500 million Africans have mobile phones. Since many Africans don’t have proper addresses or social security numbers, mobile phone usage is now serving as a platform for governments to catch-up. To this do, governments need big data analytics, the better to know their populations and make plans accordingly for infrastructure and services.

Marketing and Operations Director at Microsoft, Richard Moore, took us through digital megatrends: namely (i) digital mobility, the capacity to work anywhere anytime with your full office capacity online; (ii) social media, which allows for dialogue between companies and their stakeholders including suppliers and customers; (iii) big data and analytics which is now available to SMEs; and (iv) the Cloud which allows for unprecedented speed, scale and cost savings. The long and the short of it is that the digital revolution is the great leveller between large and smaller companies and between countries at divergent rates of development. This opens up literally a world of opportunity for smart companies.

PwC’s Cian Watson looked at the megatrends in Africa. Half of the world’s population growth to 2050 will be in Africa. Its middleclass is now 313 million and as it is the fastest growing in the world. As it grows so does the market for goods and services that the middle classes everywhere expect and demand. Mobile broadband growth 2013-14 was a staggering 43%. Rapid urbanisation is creating huge opportunities in construction. Again he cited technological breakthroughs as shaping the African business environment with mobile penetration now exceeding landline penetration. Kenya, he noted, was a leader in ICT development and a ready platform for companies looking to have a footprint in Africa. The M-Pesa system allows 18 million Kenyans carry out financial transactions every day.

Harcus Cooper of Barclays showed how traditional modern banking such as the Swift system is evolving through technology to serve African financial services. He cited the fact that 40% of Ugandans have mobile phones but less than 25% have bank accounts. John McNamara of Business Cost Management (BCM), told his story of business development from his home in Limerick to a franchise with over thirty offices in eighteen countries, a twenty year scaling made possible only by the internet and the digital revolution. He told me afterwards that the help of our Embassy in Nigeria was crucial in assisting on due diligence when it came to selecting their Nigerian partner.  If you are doing business in Africa or thinking about it, your first port of call should be to Enterprise Ireland but don’t forget to let the relevant Embassy know:  our diplomats want to know and are keen to help.  Details on our Embassy network are here.

On a housekeeping note, the Irish Exporters Association’s Export Industry Awards 2015 is on 13th November next at the Convention Centre: contact vickicaplin@irishexporters.ie for more details.

Eamonn McKee

Director General | Trade Division | Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade |

2 Clonmel Street, Dublin 2

( Tel: +353 1 408 2718 | * eamonn.mckee@dfa.ie | :: www.dfa.ie

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