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The authority on gender empowerment in business for nearly 20 years.

Disrupting the digital divide

Written by Staff Writer

August 28, 2019

By Vuyolwethu Dubese

I have always believed that inclusion informs impactful innovation and that, without it, not only are environments not ripe for effective innovation, but the global economy is moving and growing at a rate slower than its potential. Inclusion, much like innovation, is at the forefront of the new revolution of physical, digital and biological spheres – especially when looking at how we can use this Fourth Industrial Revolution to empower the next generation of women leaders in Africa and globally. The current trends in technology, enterprise and entrepreneurship allow those spheres the opportunity to leverage the development of society and women in leadership and, at the end of the day, create true emerging markets and booming industries.

Data is the new oil

Technology evolves at every chance it can get, as each revolution has proven, since the 18th century in Europe. Inventions and innovations like the steam engine, telephone, computer and the Internet of Things perfectly map the stages of the four revolutions.

At present, it’s no secret that data is the new oil, but in order to add value to this data, we need to look to the partnership between humans with domain expertise in their respective industries and (open) technologies. This partnership has the capacity to change the face of the entrepreneurship paradigm and its impact on the economy and society. It is through technologies like blockchain, cryptocurrencies, Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, to name but a few, that we are changing the way we not only do business, but continue to engage with each other.

However, new technologies, and old, have only ever explored the role of men and empowered the voice of men in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and entrepreneurship.

This hypervisibility does not mean that this cannot change; the Fourth Industrial Revolution, affectionately known within the African context as Africa 4.0, provides the perfect platform to empower women for generations to come.

FinTech meets entrepreneurship

Based in Kenya and co-founded by Rita Kimani and Peris Nyaboe, FinTech startup FarmDrive is using technology and data to empower smallholder farmers to obtain small loans. The startup uses machine learning and big data to create algorithms that put together a credit profile, which has the combined positive outcome of allowing financiers to make informed lending decisions and helping smallholder farmers track their productivity, expenses and revenue. Empowered by the vision of the fifth goal on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals agenda, which advocates gender equality, the aim to financially include the 60% disenfranchised African women smallholder farmers forms the backbone of FarmDrive.

Connectivity is key

The power of technology also lies in connectivity, not just within our small communities, but to the global community of opportunities. This is what nuclear scientist and technology entrepreneur Nomso Kana is doing with her business, Sun ‘n Shield84 Technologies, an ISP and broadband infrastructure company. The group distributes fibre-optic products and offers solutions for smart cities, participates in broadband rollout, and is erecting a plant to produce local products for immaculate internet connectivity. Kana studied the use of internet to enhance learning/teaching capabilities using wireless technology (3G and LTE) and population economics, with a vision to make internet a basic human right for all.

The answer: early education and mentorship

This is what the future of entrepreneurship looks like, having not only business impact but social impact too, embedded in the business model using the capabilities of both human and machine intelligence, and not shying away from the eventual disruption that these technologies will bring. According to the second Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), women account for only 18.8% of business owners in South Africa – this is a terribly bleak outlook for a future that requires the impact of inclusion to innovate.

So, how do we develop and nurture the next generation of women leaders using the intimidating, and to the underprivileged inaccessible, yet exciting capabilities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The answer to this question is no silver bullet, however, I strongly believe that starting to educate girls interested in STEM and entrepreneurship while still young is the key; but those girls need women in power who look like them to be hypervisible so as to make their dreams more tangible. This could not have been truer for me in my journey to becoming a successful woman in technology and media.

It’s remarkable to me how women lead, and their continuous efforts to ensure that those they mentor and sponsor recognise the importance of their role in society and its impact on the next generation of leaders. It is my hope, as Dr Judy Dlamini so eloquently puts in her book, Equal but Different: Women Leaders’ Life Stories: Overcoming Race, Gender and Social Class, that we continue to consult our awareness around not being enablers of sexism, and other “-isms”, on our career journey, rather using our privilege to propel the current and next generation towards being agents of parity.

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