Technology As A Tool For Powering Social Impact Programmes In Africa
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By Osoba OLAYIWOLA
Over the past few years in Africa, there’s been a concerted effort towards creating social impact initiatives by the government, corporate organizations and even international non-governmental organizations, in an attempt to reduce poverty and deliver a better standard of living for disadvantaged people and communities.
With 47% of the African population struggling with extreme poverty, economic development policies targeted at improving the lives of the less privileged in the society have become much more important.
However, evidence suggests that things are not getting better as the level of poverty and marginalization appear to be on the increase on the continent. Africa remains by far, the poorest continent on the planet - 28 of the world’s poorest countries are African.
Several issues accompany the implementation of governmental policies, nevertheless, economic growth and development are addressed through the deployment of these policies. Issues such as inequality, economic diversification, unemployment, poverty, human capital deficit, rural development, are majorly solved through social impact programmes. This makes the policymaking process as well as implementation – withstanding its challenges – highly imperative.
On the whole, African social impact programmes have continued to be held back by structural weaknesses - especially in the area of financial mobilization - that haven’t yet been tackled adequately. While much has been said about Africa’s struggle with corrupt leaders, and the role they play in the failure of these programs, there have been success stories nonetheless.
On March 18 2016, South Africa’s West Cape Province Departments of Social Development and Health committed 25 million rands ($1.62 million) in outcome funding for three social impact bonds (SIBs) for maternal and early childhood outcomes. It was the first ever funding committed by a middle-income government for a SIB, making South Africa’s choice to pioneer this new path especially encouraging.
Over a period of three years, the goal is to use state funding to leverage private capital to create a blended outcomes fund, which may prove more efficient than the status quo where non-profit organizations raise grant funding to augment inadequate government subsidies for early childhood development.
Another example is Mali’s Agricultural Competitiveness and Diversification Project (ACDP), implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture of Mali, and aimed at poverty reduction and increase in rural incomes. The programme has helped expand the markets for mangoes and other crops―and build good business practices within the country’s agricultural sector, with a range of stakeholders - from farmers to harvesters to collectors to processors and exporters - all benefitting from the expansion in trade.
Over the past 20 years, however, the continent has recorded huge success in the mobile segment of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Mobile networks have covered over 90% of Africa’s urban population, and Sub-Saharan has the highest ratio of mobile to telephone subscribers of any region in the world.
There’s also been an increased awareness surrounding the central importance of education to development. The world today is a knowledge-based economy and the benefits accruable from the increasingly blurring geographical boundaries across nations can be maximized only by nations with a highly skilled and educated labour force.
Affordable education and easy access to information technology tools, therefore, represent a means to foster economic development, as well as improving levels of education and training, especially in African countries. A social development programme that combines technology and education is the N-Power programme, launched by the current Nigerian government and chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
N-Power is a government initiative aimed at empowering Nigerian youths while achieving inclusion and productivity through large-scale skill development. It aims to positively improve the lives of 500,000 individuals over a period of 2 years, training them in programmes that range from Health and Tax (N-Power Health and Tax) to Agriculture and Education (N-Power Agro and N-Power Teach). After 18 months, they are expected to be equipped to survive on their own, and subsequently impact their communities with their new-found skill.
Speaking objectively – considering its large scope - N-Power has largely been a success. There are stories and video testimonials of several people who have been beneficiaries of the program. An example is Mr. Ihongo Ternenge who passed through the program as an N-Power Health Volunteer. Before the advent of the N-Power programme, he could barely make ends meet for his family comprising himself, a wife and four kids. Now, he owns 3 hectares of cassava farmland in his hometown.
As an N-Power Health Volunteer, Mr. Ihongo was a beneficiary of a tablet pre-installed with educational materials such as primary health care content which ensured his continuous learning. Asides from achieving financial self-reliance, he’s also been able to sensitize members of his community- especially pregnant and nursing mothers - on the importance of safe practices for better healthcare; thus achieving the secondary goal of the programme.
While it’s tempting to attribute the success of N-Power to the efficiency of its coordinators, an appreciation for the management of its IT infrastructure starts to emerge on a deeper glance, especially considering that the programme in itself relies heavily on the use of Information Communication Technologies. In offering beneficiaries an e-learning mobile tablet equipped with both offline and online study materials, the N-Power initiative is highly dependent on the technology that powers these devices.
In respect to this, the partnership between the Federal Government and Softcom; a private tech solutions company, highlights the best of what can be achieved when the public and private sector collaborates to implement public policies.
Here at Softcom, we take pride in delivering tech-based solutions to enable social and economic impact for the African continent. With industry expertise in different sectors, we have been able to connect several institutions with meaningful innovation. From delivering the educational aspect of the N-Power platform on e-tablets to developing a truly inclusive FinTech solution, Softcom also engages in community-targeted social responsibility campaigns built around tech and aimed at impacting communities from the grassroots.
Building solutions that work and delivering them in a country like Nigeria – with its myriad complexity – is a gargantuan task. With a population size that easily doubles that of over 70% of all African nations, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that the success of a development programme in Nigeria should translate to success in most African countries.
Consequently, recognizing the need for an adoption of successful development programmes, the Liberian Vice-President, Dr. Jewel Taylor was at the head office of Softcom Limited on the 20th of July, to further understand the structure of social programmes powered by tech. She was briefed on the mechanics behind the delivery of the N-Power programme, and other community-targeted social development programmes the company is involved in.
Alongside some members of her entourage, she asked relevant questions focused on understanding how common issues encountered when implementing these initiatives are resolved. All of these happened after a panel discussion – which included stakeholders of the Nigerian government – centred on empowering people at the bottom of the pyramid.
Liberia is a case study both of Africa’s terrible tragedy and for the recent emergence of hope. Haunted by a brutal civil war that began in 1989, the world came to know Liberia as a land of civil unrest and political comedy. After years of instability, the country was once again plagued with the Ebola virus whose situation eventually became a case of Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
However, since being declared Ebola-free in January 2016, Liberia has begun its efforts towards rebuilding the nation. The government has begun to put its financial house in order by strengthening both government budget operations and central bank functions. The emergence of George Weah as President earlier this year also brought with it renewed hope, amidst his government’s promise of economic empowerment for the masses.
It’s a giant task ahead, but Liberia is on the right path. More medical training and equipment mean Liberia’s medical services have improved since 2014. Gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2017 is estimated at 2.5% compared to a deceleration of 1.6% in 2016 and zero per cent growth in 2015 according to the World Bank.
It is encouraging that despite all of these, the current Liberian government is still looking to adopt other social development efforts for its citizens. Maybe in time, this becomes a model for African nations; understanding how and why economic recovery efforts work in other countries and adapting it for their own terrain.
If the perception of Africa as a struggling continent is to be changed, open regional economic collaboration and integration will be important in truly achieving economic diversification and inclusion.