COVID19 will transform so many things and “the new normal” will be different. Africa always adopts new technological solutions out of necessity and now is the time of necessity.
In 2019 during one of the largest tech conferences in Finland, Shift. I had a chance to share about technology for development and how Africans adopt technological solutions. In my presentation, I used a four blocks framework to cluster different ways Africans adopt technological solutions and how people living in extreme hyperlocal communities perceive technology. The core of all these technologies is a mobile phone. It is estimated by GSMA, by 2025, 84 percent of Africa’s 1.2 Billion people population will have access to SIM connection. A mobile phone is a single tool that accelerates how Africa adopts new technological solutions. My framework explained how. The framework has four blocks; Foundation Solutions, Value Added Solutions, Convenience Solutions, and High-end Solutions.
- Foundation Technology— completely grassroots level solutions mainly adopted for digital inclusion and financial inclusion at the grassroots level. This involves SMS services, phone calls, and basic peer-to-peer mobile money transactions.
- Value-Added Solutions — solutions build upon existing grassroots level solutions by adding a secondary layer of value on the top of the primary layer (Foundation Solutions). This includes payment services between multiple platforms (e.g Mobile and POS devices, Mobile and Banks, etc) and other services (SMS campaigns, SMS learning platforms, etc) based on traditional mobile technologies such as USSD and SMS technologies.
- Convenience Solutions— solutions based on smartphones (mostly apps) that provide access to Day-to-Day services at your convenience; ride-hailing apps, e-commerce platforms, food delivery apps, etc. These solutions are mostly adopted by middle-class communities living in urban areas.
- High-end Solutions — these are the new solutions that are a blend of future technologies and foundation technologies. Most of them are still being piloted. Things like an AI-powered SMS chatbot and digital assistants. A good example is Agrobot and Dr. Elsa, an SMS chatbot that provides accurate farming information to rural farmers powered with AI.
For some time, the Foundation Solutions and Value Added Solutions are the ones mainly adopted at the grassroots level since they can easily be accessed via basic feature phones. They are considered to be a necessity and anything above that is a luxury to hyperlocal communities. Because of COVID19, this might change tremendously. We might see more people moving from Value Added Solutions to the upper-layer of Convenient Solutions due to lockdown and controlled movement of people. Already platforms such as Piki, Food Sasa, Uber Eats, and others are becoming more relevant in Africa to both restaurant owners and consumers. e-learning apps and e-commerce platforms are also becoming popular. What once was seen as a luxury to study or buy things online it is actually becoming a necessity to even grassroots communities. COVID19 seems to be what was the missing puzzle of the functional innovation as the desirability component becomes more relevant, the consumer willingness to adopt these solutions increases.
Functional Innovation is a part of Human-Centered Design that addresses the relationship between people (desirability) and technology (feasibility) of any solution to a problem. Functional Innovation is what drives the adoption of most of the technology that is being adopted at the grassroots level in Africa. While in other places people can buy technology just because it offers convenience in Africa people buy technology because it offers more than just convenience it has to address a necessity.
What does this mean?
This is an opportunity for existing and new digital businesses to thrive. More Africans will be moving towards the digital economy (platform economy). African innovators need to think more about convenience solutions that are more relevant to the local markets. Currently, many traditional small and medium enterprises are struggling to operate. Innovations that can make them continue to offer value to local communities are highly needed.
Also, the future of work will be highly affected as the companies struggle we expect massive retrenchments. Gig economy platforms will be highly needed and most jobs will be offered on a part-time basis. Offices will be going to people instead of people going to the offices. Since most of the global gig platforms don’t effectively address the African market. Local innovators have a better chance to come up with solutions that are more relevant to the local markets. This also poses a challenge to African youths to learn new in-demand skills that they can offer on these platforms.
The adoption of high-end tech will continue to evolve slowly but with more people moving to the convenient solutions more data will be generated to power high-end solutions. As much as COVID19 created a lot of challenges it might be a blessing for the future of new technologies adoption in Africa.
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