Africa is on the cusp of a digital revolution. A new paradigm of creativity and innovation is manifesting in virtually every pocket of the continent, stemming from a surge in information and communications technology (ICT), accelerated by its most powerful resource – its people.
Africa boasts the highest rate of female entrepreneurship in the world.
Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the youngest populations in the world and, according to The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa (World Economic Forum report), the continent’s working-age population is set to increase by two-thirds, to over 600 million by 2030. Furthermore, women account for more than 50% of the population in Africa, and as the continent with the highest rate of female entrepreneurship in the world, the future success of its economies lies in the empowerment of its women.
It is projected that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will generate an array of unprecedented career roles. In fields such as STEM, data analysis, computer science and engineering, the aptitude of professionals who can combine digital and STEM skills with traditional subject expertise will be in demand. According to the World Economic Forum’s report, the long-term benefits of these new roles are likely to be rooted in the promotion of home-grown African digital innovators. Technological innovations such as mobile payment systems, drones and digital applications all highlight the growth of these new features in Sub-Saharan African economies. Furthermore, ecologically sustainable economic models have the potential to create millions of new jobs. The report indicates that, by 2025, approximately 462 000 additional jobs could be created in South Africa alone, including jobs in clean energy generation, energy efficiency, pollution control and natural resource management.
Women at the forefront of innovation have a strong drive to solve social challenges in a sustainable way.
Combined with technological innovation, conditions conducive to entrepreneurship can harness solutions for solving some of South Africa’s socio-economic challenges like economic and gender inequality, and can ultimately propel South Africa towards a more inclusive entrepreneurial economy.
However, South Africa still has a long way to go in terms of redressing gender inequality. Ranking fifteenth in Africa’s most gender-equal countries, South Africa lags behind Rwanda, Burundi and Namibia in the Global Gender Gap Index 2016. This, compounded by gender stereotyping and cultural barriers, has exacerbated the social and economic inequalities between women and their male counterparts, placing them on the back foot for employment in male-dominated sectors such as ICT. Women make up only 20% of the ICT workforce, hampering the scope of talented young women for ITC and STEM professions.
The World Bank estimates that the average density of ICT jobs in South Africa has increased by 26% over the last decade.
Young women need to be encouraged to follow career paths in ICT and STEM, and to be equipped with the cutting-edge skills to design and produce unique, home-grown solutions. Entrenched in the DNA of women at the forefront of innovation is a strong drive to change the world – a drive to solve social challenges with pioneering innovation, in a sustainable way. Education systems should encourage critical thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence to unlock ideas, so that ground-breaking innovations can be unleashed at the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Technology is an enabler, and for many female tech trailblazers and digital natives, the world is literally at their fingertips.
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