Bob Dylan may have had revolution in mind when he penned the lyrics to his hit The Times They Are A’Changin’. But there is a larger truth to this legendary song. Society changes through its youth. Previous generations provide the shoulders to stand on, but the youth take our world forward.
Yet there is a catch. Society also changes through its innovations. Even though technology does not occur naturally and must be prompted, once it happens, the horse is out of the gate. It starts a new race, paradoxically one that isn’t about winning – but not losing. Falling behind hurts economies and catching up comes at great cost.
How do societies lose pace? The obvious answer is that they fail to adopt new innovations. But adoption is really just a result – the end of an action. When societies fail to act on technology, they fail to adopt and consequently fall behind. We fail to act when we fail to give our youth the tools and understanding they require.
Dylan’s song makes explicit reference to this: get out of the new road if you can’t lend a hand. Neglecting to give our future generations the understanding they require is the surefire path to obsolescence. This is not news, not if you look at the urgency surrounding STEM education. Yet in an African context, this goes much further.
I am not a fan of the ideology that African nations should ‘catch up’ with the rest of the globe. By capitalising on the immense opportunities facing the continent, Africa can fast-track development and lead the global digital economy of the future.
Our greatest natural resource is no longer buried under the ground, waiting to be drilled or mined or extracted. Instead, it is the continent’s large and growing youth population that is its greatest asset. It is predicted that by 2040, Africa’s working age population will swell to 1.1 billion, creating the world’s largest and fastest-growing talent pool.
The World Bank estimates that this demographic could generate between 11% and 15% GDP growth between 2011 and 2030. With adequate investment in skills development and training, sub-Saharan Africa could add up to $500 billion every year to its economies: the equivalent of one-third of the continent’s current GDP.
This workforce is also set to be the most culturally diverse of any worldwide. The UN estimates there are as many as 3000 ethnic groups speaking more than 2000 different languages across the continent’s 54 countries. Socially diverse groups have been found to be more innovative and better at solving complex problems than homogenous groups.
If we want to utilise this diversity, it is critical that we invest in our youth. The challenge goes beyond STEM disciplines, since technology is impacting every sphere of our worlds, every level of Maslow’s famous hierarchy. It is obvious that we must promote technology thinking and understanding across society.
SAP has launched both the SAP Skills of Africa and SAP Africa Code Week programmes to support diversity and local development. It’s about good business: the more skills there are, the better for SAP and its customers. Neither exist in a vacuum: the more Africa takes ownership of technology, the more all of us will benefit.
Bob Dylan sang about revolution. This is a revolution, one that Africa will lead. What must we do? Help Africa take the reins!