In over 2 decades of working across Africa, I pretty much heard all the warnings one may encounter about the risks and challenges of operating in the continent, with many experienced entrepreneurs, business leaders, and investors saying that “the challenges often overcome the potential, making the effort unworthy”.
Those warnings were not completely made up. Everyone who has ever tried to lead a business in Africa knows how challenging everyday operations can be. But after years of operating different ventures across the continent, we believed that technology can disrupt this reality, creating a potential for business and impact on an unprecedented scale.
Today, several years later, with operations in 10,000 villages throughout Africa, we can state that advanced technology did enable and is still enabling the creation of fast-growing companies with tremendous impact. But while different technologies get heaps of public attention, the one I’m referring to is underestimated by many, although being the main enabler for growth and impact in a challenging environment.
Superstar technologies with limited possibilities
With hundreds of millions of people living without access to the most basic services such as electricity, clean water, internet connectivity, medical services, and more, sub-Saharan Africa presents some of the biggest challenges of our time. And while different solutions are already available in the market, the population growth rate is higher than the distribution rate, leading to increasing numbers and demand.
When thinking about technologies that disrupt Africa, most people think of the “usual suspects”; renewable energy developments (mainly solar), advanced medical devices, agricultural systems, and more. The latest addition to this exclusive list is blockchain technology, enabling millions to receive financial services for the first time.
All those technologies are amazingly impactful on people’s lives, providing advanced solutions on a large scale in the most sustainable manner possible. But despite their superstar status, these technologies enable solutions for specific problems, and none provide a solution to the actual hardships that leading a business in Africa encompasses, the challenges that prevent many entrepreneurs and investors from operating in the African market, hindering advancements that are essential to hundreds of millions of lives.
Data is the real enabler
All the technologies mentioned above provide impactful and sustainable solutions to the most acute problems of the customer’s lives, with the keyword in this sentence is “customer”. Each technology and its products solve the specific needs of the end-customer. However impactful that might be, the real disruption is the one that affects companies and organizations, enabling multiple operations and a positive impact on millions more.
This is the case with big-data analytics, smart AI algorithms, and advanced machine learning. In recent years, amazing progress in those fields led to much smarter operations and data-driven decision-making across industries. While in developed markets like the US, utilizing these technologies led to the rise of mega-companies (such as Amazon), in Africa, it enabled dealing with the threatening challenges of operating in the region in a better, smarter way.
Being extremely tech-agnostic, I believe companies should invest a tremendous amount of effort into developing sophisticated tools, utilizing the most advanced technology to constantly improve our operations and procedures. In Ignite Power, we collect and analyze vast amounts of data on every step of the way, making a huge chunk of the business decision-making process is now automated, as we believe that data technologies have the power to disrupt Africa, allowing companies and organizations to de-risk operations and face various challenges head-on, attracting more investors and entrepreneurs to the region.
Just like rivers, technology is only moving onwards. Further developments will allow us to deal with additional challenges, and impact millions more. I have no doubt that technology is one of the cornerstones of success for companies in the solar sector (such as Ignite Power), operating across the continent. It is the enabler that makes operating in the region not just possible, but feasible, and leads the way to a better, more advanced future for all.