Thursday, October 28, 2021

We should innovate our way out of the troubled times through Technopreneurship

Local telecommunications companies are expected to descend on the tiny village of Thamaga this coming week as part of the celebrations to mark World Telecommunications and Information day. The celebrations have been slated for May 24. 

Recently as part of preparations for the day, Communications Minister, Tshenolo Mabeo pointed out at a press conference that Botswana has prioritised ICT as an engine of growth for the economy. As part of our usual “talk and do nothing”, that’s impressive and commendable. 

The minister also advanced government’s commitment to solving apparent market failures, which arise from the gap in broadband connectivity thus hindering access across various sectors of the economy. It’s unfortunate that he did not state what the government is doing to correct such an impediment. 

This commentary has been motivated by the minister’s words on ICT Entrepreneurship for social impact. There is no doubt that given that Botswana seeks to achieve inclusive growth in NDP 11, one of the ways to achieve it is through ICT Entrepreneurship. 

If there is any ideal time to boost ICT entrepreneurship as an economic diversification tool in our country it is now. This is so partly because Botswana continues to be ranked as a laggard along other sub-Saharan Africa countries when it comes to performance of this particular economic sector.  

As shown in the 2014 Network Readiness Index (NRI) our country is ranked at position 103 out of 148 countries with a below average score of 3.4 out of 7. Perhaps to share a little more on this particular report, the NRI considers a number of indicators, among them the political and regulatory environment and effectiveness of law making bodies. 

Other pillars that are also looked at include the rate of software piracy, availability of latest technologies, availability of venture capital, procedures and number of days needed to start a business and government procurement of advanced technology. 

The major reason why our country should actively diversify the economy towards ICT is because of the potential in this sector given the number of graduates in the sector, both employed and unemployed. 

Our view is that with over 5,000 unemployed graduates in the ICT sector atleast by March 2011 and a tertiary institution enrolment that stands at about 31000, policy makers in the ICT sector should be doing more to capitalise on the current situation. They need to up their game and insure that unlike in other sectors, locals are brought on board to drive the economic diversification. 

It is quite evident that elsewhere in developing economies, policy and law makers are busy harnessing their innovation potential to reinforce resilience against turbulent markets and sustain rapid economic growth. In their quest, many countries are now turning to information and communication technologies, in their role as key enablers of innovation and new employment opportunities. Why can’t we do the same here?

Our opinion is that despite all the hindrance that our fellow citizens face, there should not be a slight doubt that our country’s potential to diversify its economy away from the mining sector can only be harnessed through the Information and Communication (ICT) sector.

The excitement that has come about as a result of the expansion of this youth oriented sector over the past few years also provides evidence of the potential that lies ahead for the diversification of the domestic economy. 

In addition, traditional industries such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing and tourism will benefit from the introduction of ICTs into ongoing operations. 

Even the Local Entrepreneurship Authority (LEA) would agree with us that their clients, being SMEs need online initiatives which could also be used as training platforms for provision of necessary tools to move their businesses on-line and use the internet as a vehicle for increasing productivity and sales. 

The general agreement between us and ICT policy makers should be that although much progress has been done, it is quite evident that severe weaknesses still persist in the sector precisely in response to business and innovation ecosystems. This trend, as anyone would tell seems to have resulted in very low positive economic and social impacts.

The trend as such calls for a professional regulation that requires improvement in driving the economy to not just a knowledge economy but also an economy that is led by the ICT sub sector. The fact that the government has already invested a lot in the ICT sector as shown by establishment of entities such as BoFiNet is a good sign that atleast there is someone who is doing something right at the government enclave. On the same footing, there is no doubt that the Botswana Innovation Hub is a good initiative that could benefit Botswana if properly managed. But when can we start seeing the tangibles of the two entities? Can we have BOCRA making show that retailers do take up the wholesale packages as offered by BoFiNet? 

In addition, one ought to also state that our small population also gives the government and other donors an upper hand to empower the marginal communities with gadgets that they can use in technological innovations and solutions. That is what happening elsewhere i this global village we live in. 

The Bottom-line however is that there is need to create more partnership particularly between leading ICT academia which will accelerate the development of promising technologies as well as commercialisation which in turn will result in economic diversification. 

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