By Riaz Moola, CEO of HyperionDev
In this difficult time of physical lockdowns and economic downturns, the tech sector is uniquely positioned to rebuild our vibrant nation and its future. Local start-ups and tech firms can help drive social change and revive the economy, far beyond tax and revenue. I believe there are four ways in which tech businesses can uplift SA.
South Africa finds itself at a difficult moment. Unemployment has hit a record high of more than 30% according to the most recent government Quarterly Labour Force Survey. During 2020 alone, some 2 million jobs were shed – and the effects of the national lockdown and its regulations continue to be felt by businesses, many of whom had to shutter shops or scale back operations to comply with restrictions to combat the spread of the virus.
However, the tech sector finds itself uniquely positioned to accelerate social change, rebuild the economy, boost education and health, and improve access to a better life with greater opportunities. Here are four ways that ICT businesses play their part.
1 Provide innovative solutions to new problems
Part of technology’s contribution to our society is its capacity for invention and innovation. Established tech companies and start-ups both have an opportunity to help South Africa rethink the way its businesses, systems, and society works. A great example is how tech has helped brick-and-mortar businesses overcome the forced closures during lockdown.
Thanks to new communication technologies, online services, and digital transformation, thousands of businesses were able to revitalise their operations and increase their reach beyond the single street in their business district. Businesses have been able to reimagine themselves because of better access to tech that makes them more agile and less complex. One example of this is Yoco, a tech company that allows small businesses to process card payments without having to pay for costly bank swiping terminals or connect to complex systems.
2 Improve education and access to a better life
With a changing world comes ever-changing requirements. Part of South Africa’s troubles lie in the difficulty people experience in accessing a world-class education that prepares them for a fruitful and rewarding future. The need for better access to high-quality education in South Africa, where cost places it out of reach, is all too clear. According to StatsSA data from 2020, the number of South Africans aged between 15 – 24 years who were not in education, employment or training was recorded at 34.1%. Around 41.7% of all South Africans under the age of 35 (totalling 20.4 million people) are not currently in employment either. It’s alarming and worrying.
Tech companies can address this problem on two fronts: by improving the ease of access to education through digital and remote technologies, and by modernising educational curricula to include technical skills that today’s business landscape requires.
South Africa has already seen a wave of start-ups dedicated to democratising access to education. Organisations like the FunDza Literacy Trust push for more accessible reading and better education development. Start-ups like Snapplify create entire e-learning platforms for organisations, while coding skills bootcamps like ours at HyperionDev make access to key digital and developer skills simpler and more equitable.
Accessibility is at the heart of these movements. Enabling South Africans with low-bandwidth access to participate in affordable and high-quality educational resources from wherever they may be – provided they have a cellphone – is a big step in the right direction. The tech sector can greatly improve the South African outlook by making these initiatives accessible.
3 Champion sustainable growth and inclusion
Those operating in the tech sector are often the vanguards of progressive values, since their expertise lays the foundation for economic, social, and technological evolution of all other industries. This is why it’s important for us to be the pioneers of social change by holding and pursuing a set of core values and practices that further the public good.
This can be as simple as providing financial, technical, or organisational support to causes that aim to uplift others. Clothing company Patagonia famously donates 1% of its pre-tax income to charities and non-profit organisations that are committed to preserving and restoring the natural environment. But contributions don’t need to be financial, of course: using your tech company’s talents and expertise in partnerships that deliver social value are just as necessary. There are numerous collaborative efforts – such as the recent partnership between Vodacom and Microsoft to improve learners’ access to education – that will play their part in driving our country forward.
4 Promote impact-investment
Impact investment is a relatively new concept which goes beyond the pure financial gains that traditional investment schemes focus on. Impact investments are capital and VC fund-raising initiatives that deliver positive social, economic, or environmental change.
To narrow the skills gap crisis and tackle unemployment in South Africa, HyperionDev has launched an impact investment campaign that allows members of the public to become equity stakeholders in the company as it expands into UK and US markets. Through these investment contributions, as much as R3.5 million in coding scholarships will be made available to get more people skilled for jobs in a 4IR economy in the company as it expands into UK and US markets. Through these investment contributions, as much as R3.5 million in coding scholarships will be made available to get more people skilled for jobs in a 4IR economy – delivering positive social impact every step of the way.
Through a combination of these and other initiatives, the tech sector could bring a definitive end to some of South Africa’s most pressing socio-economic woes.
About the author
Riaz Moola is the founder and CEO of HyperionDev. Riaz was a Gates Cambridge Scholar in 2014 and completed a MPhil in Advanced Computer Science with Distinction and a MPhil in Technology Policy from the University of Cambridge. He previously worked in the Search team at Google and became the first South African to be invited to join Google’s prestigious Associate Product Manager Programme. He worked as a software developer at Bank of America and research student at the University of Oxford before founding HyperionDev from his couch in 2012.