Picture: 123RF/federicofoto
Picture: 123RF/federicofoto

These days you can’t open a newspaper, access an online news site or watch a television news channel without coming across someone talking about the fourth industrial revolution and how it’s going to change our lives.

While this may be true for some people, I do not believe, for the medium term, that will be true for all. In fact, I believe the rise of the fourth industrial revolution will exacerbate the digital divide.

In places like Hollywood, when your milk is running low your fridge will place an automatic order for more milk from the local Whole Foods Market. However, there are tens if not hundreds of millions across the developing world who have no fridge, no milk and very little food.

In the agricultural industry, drone technology is being combined with highly sophisticated surveying technology to allow for precision farming where the needs of every plant can be met and, as a result, produce a much higher yield per square metre. The problem, though, is that in places like Somalia, by the time that theoretical higher-yield produce gets to market most has already spoiled. The lack of cold chain logistics and poor road infrastructure makes farmers located more than 100km from Mogadishu irrelevant, even if they have access to fourth industrial revolution technologies.

The biggest opportunity for entrepreneurs in the next decade will be in creating the bridging solutions between the fourth industrial revolution and 4MR.

By far the majority of entrepreneurs I have dealt with are not in the tech space and certainly not in the high-tech space. These are salt-of-the-earth entrepreneurs who are trading goods and services using technology only as a supporting tool. All this talk of the fourth industrial revolution frustrates them as most feel they will not be the creators of fourth industrial revolution solutions but will more likely become net users of these new technologies.

 However, there is a small, and hopefully growing, subset of entrepreneurs who are seeing the opportunity to create solutions that bridge the gap between fourth industrial revolution technology and the practical reality, such as poor infrastructure, in which most developing countries find themselves. I like to call this 4MR, or 4 My Reality.

As an example, a few years ago I was involved in a business that was directly targeting 4MR solutions. Owing to a lack of infrastructure and cold chain, rural dairy farmers were unable to transport their milk to market before it soured. In essence, better access to medicine and technology that gave better milk yields meant nothing to many of the farmers. National dairies were only interested in sending refrigerated tankers to farmers who could produce in excess of 1,000l of milk per day. By far the majority of these small-scale dairy farmers were producing nowhere near that quantity and, as a result, were relegated to providing only their local communities with milk.

The solution was a small-scale, solar-powered pasteurisation unit that met all of the health department’s requirements for safe pasteurisation. Having such a unit in a small village meant milk would last up to seven days without going off. As a result of the milk’s longer shelf life, there was now a possibility of value add, and many small-scale farmers started producing other products such as butter and cheese.

But the real twist to the story was the discovery that the same small-scale pasteurisation unit could be modified to pasteurise human breast milk, effectively destroying any HIV virus present and helping prevent mother-to-child transmission of the disease. Local communities were now able to create breast-milk banks where lactating mothers could sell their milk for other babies in the community to consume safely.

Another great example is a company called Zipline, which is distributing medical supplies and blood products by drone to far-flung areas in Rwanda that are difficult to reach. They are using existing drone technology to overcome infrastructural inefficiencies. The modern medicine exists and the people who require it exist, but the road infrastructure prevents the medicines and blood products from reaching the “client” effectively. This is a 4MR solution that is using existing technology to close that gap.

In my opinion, the biggest opportunity for entrepreneurs in the next decade will be in creating bridging solutions between the fourth industrial revolution and 4MR. Entrepreneurs and companies operating in the fourth industrial revolution segment of the economy will have no choice but to collaborate with entrepreneurs who have solutions to infrastructural deficiencies that are preventing the fourth industrial revolution from effectively reaching the “last mile”.

Higher yields of tomatoes mean nothing if they cannot reach the market. Precision medicine means nothing to rural communities if it cannot be distributed to local clinics. If, as an entrepreneur, you are feeling disillusioned by your lack of inclusion in the fourth industrial revolution, perhaps you should be looking at the opportunities being presented by 4MR instead.

• Raizn (@allonraiz) is CEO of Raizcorpm entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.