Technological Innovation: The game changer in socio-economic development

Technological innovation ‑ development through which improved technologies are expanded and brought into extensive application ‑ represents a way for countries in Africa to foster social and economic development.

It helps reinforce, converge and integrate all three key pillars of sustainable development, and also supports and facilitates the attainment of its fundamental underlying principles of efficiency, effectiveness and equity.

The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, underlines that technological innovation is crucial for economic development not only in developing countries but also in states around the world.

“With a fast approaching MDG deadline and transition to a post-2015 development era, technological innovation is a very timely topic,” remarks Hongbo.

Academic, published author, writer and broadcaster, Lee-Roy Chetty shares the same views and states that African nations can use technological innovation as a cornerstone to transform economies.

Chetty comments, “Technological innovations can assist people communicate with one another, access market information, sell products across geographic areas, reach new consumers, enter mobile payment systems, reduce fraud and crime and empower women and the disadvantaged.”

Accordingly, African countries should use technological innovation as a game changer in social and economic development since it help entrepreneurs to expand their markets. 

Chetty also believes that technological innovation is important in closing the gender gap.

He says: “Access to mobile technology is particularly important for females because there are 300-million fewer women globally than men who own mobile devices. 

“Overall, there is a 21 percent gender gap in owning a phone worldwide, but this number rises to 23 percent in Africa, 24 percent in the Middle East, and 37 percent in Asia.”

Technological innovation also plays an important role in education and training.

According to Chetty, in Indonesia, the Global Ready eTraining Centre programme has trained over 1 000 students in technology services. 

Those enrolled get vouchers for a three-month programme. More than 95 percent of the individuals enrolled completed the class, and 75 percent said the course increased their income because of the skills acquired in the programme.

More so, a survey undertaken by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found that 55 percent of women around the world earned additional income due to owning a mobile phone and 41 percent increased their income and professional opportunities.

Chetty says: “Mobile payment systems represent a way to reduce the cost of financial transactions and thereby help entrepreneurs. 

“If people can transfer funds quickly and efficiently, it becomes easier for small and medium-sized businesses to sell their products. This improves the efficiency of the marketplace and removes barriers to growth.”

Reducing “friction” is very important in African markets because barriers to financial transactions remain quite high. 

Only 30 percent of those who live in African nations have bank accounts.

Consequently, technological innovation offers extensive help on various forms of social and economic development. For instance, wireless communications broaden access to information, improve capital access, overcome geographic limitations and expand market access.

Moreover, with mobile phones and tablets proliferating at a significant rate, these communications tools enable women, the disadvantaged and other individuals to access a broader range of investors, suppliers, and customers.

Combined with social media platforms, people can extend their reach through mobile devices and pool resources in meaningful ways.

What it means is that policymakers should redouble their efforts to support this field and form partnerships that harness its power. 

The Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Francis Gurry, believes that policymakers have “a unique opportunity to define the key role that science, technology and innovation can play in achieving the development goals of the African continent”. 

Sharing the same sentiments, Néstor Osorio, the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) puts it thus: “The African continent in particular holds a great and unexploited potential that with innovation could foster job creation and the development of cultural industries, leading to increased economic growth.” 

Osorio goes on to add: “Innovation is the essence of our modern society. Without harnessing its power, we will not be able to create healthy, educated or inclusive societies.

“Greater efforts are needed to build partnerships among government, private sector, civil society, academia, philanthropic organisations and the international community, to promote and spread innovation for sustainable development in Africa.”

Technology companies, service providers and governments should be encouraged to continue to find innovative ways to attempt to connect the unconnected.

September 2013
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