Solving Africa’s mega challenges at a scale needs new thinking. Reaching low income segments of the population requires overcoming barriers related to productivity and underutilization of resources, quality, reach and availability, affordability and viability, motivation, and scale. The last few years have seen a proliferation of innovations to address these challenges that leverage technology.
Mobile-based innovations such as M-Pesa, M-Shwari, M-Kesho are addressing financial inclusion and triggering other innovations that use these platforms such as off-grid energy provider MKOPA. Breakthroughs are also happening beyond mobile-based solutions. A wide range of tech disruptions across sectors are emerging: Enterprises like Bankymoon, which last year created the world’s first Blockchain smart metering solution for power and utility grids, or BitPesa, a platform that allows users to trade in a digital currency, are examples of how exponential technologies are trying to solve problems in a non-linear way.
The pace at which these technologies are developing can potentially disrupt the speed of problem solving and demonstrates Moore’s law in action which states that the number of transistors doubles every 18 months. We are already witnessing the impact these “exponential technologies” can create: While Africa started out with 5% mobile penetration in 2005, 2010 already saw 200 million mobile subscriptions (25%) which increased to 557 million (46%) in 2015 and predictions are that by 2020 we will see 725 million subscribers (54%).
Similarly, the number of connected devices globally was 12.5 billion in 2010 and 25 billion in 2015 and is estimated to increase to 50 billion devices in 2020. Soon the most powerful computer in the world will equate to the human brain for computing power. Around 2025 desktops or laptops will equal a mind and by 2030 the world’s most powerful supercomputer will equate to almost a million humans.
Making predictions about the future is not always easy, as even some of the pioneers in history have fail to do so: “The global demand for cars will not exceed 1 million, one reason being the shortage of drivers,” estimated Gottlieb Daimler in 1901. In the same year, Wilbur Wright, a pioneer in aviation, estimated: “It will not be possible for humankind in the next fifty years to take-off in a metal plane.” The rest is history. It is difficult for us to predict how the future will play out – but we are optimistic that we can solve some of Africa’s age old developmental bottlenecks through leveraging best in class technology.
Exponential improvement in the cost-performance of technologies is fueling innovation across the world, building on the core digital building blocks—computing power, storage, and bandwidth—and allowing us to think exponentially. Breakthroughs in performance, miniaturization of technologies and energy efficiency of sensors and batteries as well as compact, low-cost computing power and data storage and advances in providing connectivity are unfolding. In combination with accessible and affordable tools that enable rapid software development and Big Data analytics they have the potential of driving exponential solution development across the African continent.