Over the past few years in Africa, there’s been a concerted effort towards creating social impact initiatives by the government, corporate organizations and even international non-government organizations (NGOs) in an attempt to reduce poverty and deliver a better standard of living for disadvantaged people and communities. With 47% of the African population battling extreme poverty, economic development policies targeted at improving the lives of the less privileged in the society have become much more important.
However, research suggests that things are not getting better as the level of poverty and marginalization appear to be on the increase in the continent. Africa remains by far the poorest continent on the planet — 28 of the world’s poorest countries are African.
Several issues accompany the implementation of government policies, nevertheless, economic growth and development are addressed through the deployment of these policies. Issues such as inequality, economic diversification, unemployment, poverty, human capital deficit, rural development, are majorly solved through social impact programs. This makes the policymaking process as well as implementation — withstanding its challenges — highly imperative. On the whole, African social impact programs have continued to be held back by structural weaknesses — especially in the area of financial mobilization — that haven’t yet been tackled adequately.
While much has been said about Africa’s struggle with corrupt leaders, and the role they play in the failure of these programs, there have been some success stories nonetheless.
On March 18 2016, South Africa’s West Cape Province Departments of Social Development and Health committed 25 million rand ($1.62 million) to funding three social impact bonds (SIBs) for maternal and early childhood outcomes. It was the first ever funding committed by a middle-income government for an SIB, making South Africa’s choice to pioneer this new path encouraging. Over a period of three years, the goal has been to use “state funding to create a blended outcomes fund, which may prove more efficient than when non-profit organizations raise grant funding to augment inadequate government subsidies”.
Another example is Mali’s Agricultural Competitiveness and Diversification Project (ACDP), implemented by the Malian Ministry of Agriculture aimed at poverty reduction and increase in rural incomes. The program has helped expand the market for mango and other crops, as well as build good business practices within the country’s agricultural sector. This has been achieved with some stakeholders — from farmers to harvesters to collectors to processors and exporters — all benefitting from the expansion in trade.
Over the past 20 years however, the continent has recorded huge success in the mobile segment of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Mobile networks have covered over 90% of Africa’s urban population, and Sub-Sahara has the highest ratio of mobile to telephone subscribers of any region in the world. There’s also been an increased awareness surrounding the central importance of education to development. The world today is a knowledge-based economy and the benefits accruable from the blurring geographical boundaries can only be maximised by nations with a highly skilled and educated labour force.
Affordable education and easy access to information technology tools, thus, represents a means to foster economic development, as well as improve levels of education, especially in African countries.
Nigeria’s N-Power A social development program that combines technology and education is the N-Power program, launched by the current Nigerian government and chaired by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
N-Power is a government initiative aimed at empowering Nigerian youths while achieving inclusion and productivity through large-scale skill development. It aims to improve the lives of 500,000 individuals over a two-year period, training them in programs that range from Health and Tax (N-Power Health and Tax) to Agriculture and Education (N-Power Agro and N-Power Teach).
Eighteen months into the program, beneficiaries are expected to have created sustainable means of generating income at the nuclear and intra-community level given the access to skills and development courses provided via the e-learning platform that the program offers and the stipend provided by the government.
While it’s tempting to attribute the success of N-Power to the efficiency of its co-ordinators, an appreciation for the management of its IT infrastructure starts to emerge on a deeper glance; especially considering that the program in itself relies heavily on the use of ICTs. In offering beneficiaries an e-learning mobile tablet equipped with both offline and online study materials, the N-Power initiative is highly dependent on the technology that powers these devices.
In this vein, the partnership between the federal government and Softcom, a private tech solutions company, highlights the best of what can be achieved when the public and private sector collaborates to implement policies.
At Softcom Limited, we pride ourselves on delivering tech-based solutions to enable social and economic impact for the African continent. With industry expertise in different sectors, they’ve been able to connect individuals with meaningful innovations, from delivering the educational aspect of the N-Power platform on e-tablets to developing a truly inclusive FinTech solution. Softcom also engage in targeted community social responsibility campaigns built around tech, and aimed at impacting communities from the grassroots.
The progressive biases looking for innovative ways to design and implement social impact programs becomes a model for African nations; understanding how and why economic recovery efforts work in other countries and adapting it for their own environment.
If the perception of Africa as a struggling continent is to be changed, open regional economic collaboration and integration will be important to truly achieving economic diversification and inclusion.
Building solutions that work and delivering them in a country like Nigeria — with its myriad complexity — is a gargantuan task. With a population size that easily doubles that of over 70% of all African nations, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that the success of a development program in Nigeria could translate to success in most African countries.