Eradicating digital poverty in SA is everyone’s business
The Cisco Networking Academy is closing the technical skills gap by equipping graduates and enterprises with workplace-ready expertise
SA has made significant progress when it comes to digital transformation and the adoption of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies. The government has demonstrated willingness to partner and collaborate in consulting with industry stakeholders.
Relevant conversations are being held with stakeholders, including the private sector, academia and civil society. We also see the right course of action being taken, such as the Independent Communications Authority of SA's auction of high-speed radio frequency spectrum in 2022, and the authority’s plans to hold a second auction in early 2024.
However, there’s still more to be done to close the digital divide and eliminate digital poverty in SA. Africa is the least connected region on the planet, with 60% of the population lacking internet access. Digital poverty, which refers to a minimal or complete lack of access to the internet and digital technologies, is an obstacle to sustainable development.
By taking a strategic approach to the rollout of infrastructure, and prioritising key areas such as education and sustainability, we can make changes that matter and create long-term benefits for SA’s citizens, institutions and enterprises.
Digital poverty has far-reaching consequences
For many South Africans, a digital-first world remains out of reach. With an internet penetration rate of only 72.3%, more than a quarter of our country’s population do not have access to what is considered a basic human right, something many of us take for granted.
In the face of this lack of access, we see the impact of digital poverty and can identify the groups and communities it affects the most. Unconnected citizens, predominantly residing in rural areas, are excluded from various opportunities, notably education, health and employment, and from digitally enabled services.
Connectivity must be treated and enshrined as a human right – something that all citizens need to live and prosper
They might not be able to benefit from something as simple and vital as applying for an ID or driver's licence online, which excludes them from contributing in so many different ways. Students, entrepreneurs and innovators are eager to leverage technology to solve Africa’s challenges and uplift their communities and the country.
Additional factors such as load-shedding also restrict efforts to confront this inequality. If internet and mobile service operators need to spend large amounts of capital on ensuring a reliable supply of power, it limits their spend on areas such as expanding coverage, lowering communication costs and helping to close the digital divide.
Connectivity cannot and should not be perceived as a luxury. As directed by the UN secretary-general’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which states that every person should have safe and affordable internet access by 2030, connectivity must be treated and enshrined as a human right — something that all citizens need to live and prosper. To make that a reality, we have a shared responsibility to expand connectivity and equip our citizens with the knowledge they need to leverage the power of internet access.
Education through technology
Despite being one of Africa’s most industrialised economies, SA suffers from a significant employment shortfall. With a youth unemployment rate of more than 45%, a large portion of our employable population is faced with an uncertain future, partially fuelled by a lack of connectivity that restricts economic opportunity and participation.
A key element of a connected and capable citizenry is education. Today, internet users have access to a wide variety of online learning systems, which can help bridge the gap between education and employment. The Covid-19 crisis demonstrated the power of remote learning — a trend that can benefit students and institutions — and hybrid work models, closing geographical gaps and showing the resilience that comes with expanded connectivity.
This is where upskilling and certification opportunities play a key role. Initiatives such as the Cisco Networking Academy help close gaps in terms of technical skills and workplace-ready expertise. This programme allows graduates and enterprise partners to hit the ground running, equipped with the knowledge they need to become highly valued by leading technology vendors and service providers.
Participants who go through Networking Academy can enrol on Talent Bridge, a collaborative space between Cisco and its partners that captures technical talent at various levels. Cisco partners and potential employers can access the database to connect with talent that meets their organisation’s requirements.
However, we should also think beyond education and into entrepreneurship and business incubation. Armed with the knowledge and certifications in leading networking technologies, aspiring entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders need spaces and facilities that support and nurture their winning ideas.
Incubation hubs in Cape Town and Joburg, such as those recently launched by nonprofit organisation WomHub in partnership with Cisco, make that possible. The hubs are equipped with networking technologies and solutions that empower people and help them collaborate with partners, suppliers and industry leaders to take their ideas to market and beyond.
Equity, equality and opportunity are all made possible through technology.
Sustainability meets broadband
Sustainability is critical to SA’s expanded connectivity strategy. Today, technology vendors and suppliers are inclined to pay attention to environmental, social and governance issues and need proof of a sustainable value chain. This translates to having complete oversight of the chain, knowing what resources and labour go into the manufacturing and distribution processes, and what organisations are doing to play their part in protecting the environment.
According to the Cisco Broadband Survey, 25% of respondents who plan to upgrade their internet service in the next 12 months cite sustainable or “green” broadband provision as a factor in their decision-making, while 34% said they would be willing to pay a premium of up to 10% for the “greenest” broadband available. These numbers indicate a shift in how we think of connectivity affecting the environment. Coupled with efforts to roll out infrastructure, sustainability becomes a fundamental part of empowering South Africans with internet access.
We need all sectors to work together to digitally enable and empower all South Africans. We need more collaboration, trust, willingness and transparency between stakeholders. Building an inclusive future for all begins by empowering an inclusive future for all citizens — and part of that power comes with connectivity.
This article was sponsored by Cisco.