Youth and Emerging Digital Value Chains of the 21st Century
by Madanmohan Rao
Conference Chair, Youth Engagement Summit 2013
Youth represent the future of a country’s prosperity, and ICT environments need
to be aligned to the emerging value chains of the 21st century to effectively
engage youth. This seemed to be the general consensus of the first edition of the
Africa Youth Engagement Summit, held in Mauritius from Dec 4-5.
The event was organised by Extensia, a leading community of major ICT players
active in Africa, and hosted by the government of Mauritius.
For the first time in history, youth are more in tune with new technology than
their elders, earning them the name ‘digital natives.’ At first glance, many think
that youth are easily distracted, play too many games, prefer online interaction
rather than face-to-face, suffer from attention deficit disorder, and are unaware
of online security risks.
Further research, however, reflects that youth today are more creative,
expressive, globally oriented, connected, mobilised and entrepreneurial than
ever before. Youth in recent times have created successive waves of startups
which became ICT giants: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook were all
created by college students and in some cases even college dropouts! So can the
next Facebook or Google come from the youth of Africa?
The inaugural YES summit featured two sets of discussion topics: high-level
snapshots of what Africa’s ministries, mobile operators and educators are doing
for their online youth, as well on-the-ground insights with case studies and
Youth today expect quick responses to their activities on social and mobile media
– which call for responsive infrastructure solutions, community engagement
models, and new career paths. As digital infrastructure continues its rapid
evolution, higher-level issues of Internet governance, security and the
Millennium Development Goals also need to come into play for youth.
The conference profiled the activities of ICANN, AfriNIC, UN agencies (UNDP,
UNICEF) and Wikimedia Foundation in the region. Country profiles were
presented from across the continent, featuring Mauritius, Rwanda, Kenya,
Namibia, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Angola, and The Gambia.
Solution showcases featured the works of five companies, and workshops were
conducted on big data, open content, mesh networks and digital
entrepreneurship. Incubators and awards schemes have been developed across
the region as ways of incentivising youth in the digital arena.
The summary in Table 1 for the YES event draws on my “8 Cs” framework for the
knowledge society which I prepared for United Nations’ WSIS (see my paper
“Visions of the Information Society”
http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/visions/developing/index.html). In other words,
youth will be truly empowered if they have affordable access to digital media,
content generation tools, community support, incentives to contribute to the
knowledge society, pro-active culture of collaboration, and capacity building for
Table 1: “8 Cs” of the Knowledge Society: Youth engagement in Africa
Initiatives in Africa
Free WiFi (Sierra Leone), low-cost laptops (Kenya) and tablets
(Mauritius), schemes for ICT access for people with disabilities
(Egypt), rich-media campus networks (Nigeria)
Digitised textbooks and e-learning modules (Sierra Leone)
IT clubs and community service centres (Egypt), mobile ICT
labs in buses for rural communities (Angola)
AIS/AFRINIC Fellowship Programme, gender inclusion policies
and mentorship (The Gambia), research networks +
certifications in IT training (Nigeria), internship programmes
(Angola), capacity building for SMEs (Egypt)
E-commerce laws (Namibia), m-Pesa (Kenya)
Common spaces for innovation (Angola’s Media Libraries
Investment and incubation for startups (Kenya and Mauritius),
Societal Acceleration Platform (Namibia)
Alliances with Microsoft and IBM for startups (Mauritius),
Southern Africa Innovation Support (SAIS) Program,
partnerships between Wikimedia foundation and mobile
ICANN is promoting a participative and multi-stakeholder approach to Internet
self governance in Africa, and the Dot Africa consortium is advocating domain
name branding strategies for the region.
Egypt regards “digital socio-economic development” as the way forward to
prosperity, freedom and social equity. Countries such as Kenya and Namibia are
formulating Vision 2030 ICT statements, which include a youth focus.
In the region, Kenya stands out as a hub for ICT startup activity, with
entrepreneurs developing products and services for bulk SMS management,
polling, content mapping, and social media gateways. Design thinking is being
promoted as a discipline, and crowdfunding is emerging as an attractive funding
The Mauritius Technopreneurship programme provides not just technical
support via hackathons and bootcamps but also capacity building in
communication skills and business plan writing for startups.
Challenges in Africa will continue to be in improving rural access to ICTs,
creating content and services for agricultural communities, accelerating social
innovation, and strengthening inter-ministry cooperation for youth initiatives.
Encouraging moves from the point of view of youth include the emergence of
BPO initiatives in many countries, followed by startup hubs and incubators.
Governments can do a lot to accelerate e-government services and thus lift the
tide for a broader range of e-services and entrepreneurship.
Further developments on youth engagement initiatives in Africa will be tracked
on the Extensia portal (www.extensia-ltd.com) and explored in 2014 events such
as the Innovation Africa Digital Summit to be held in The Gambia on March 2527.
Dr Madanmohan Rao is the author of 15 books on ICTs, knowledge management
and culture. He can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao