Africa is largely operating on perpetual statistics-free construct. Anyone can throw any number it wants. It happens all the time, but when you see leading global brands do so, you will sob.
In 2010, I was in California where I asked former U.S. Vice President, Al Gore, that his message on climate change was tainted because American companies would do in my country (Nigeria) what they would never do in America. I explained to Mr. Gore that Chevron would not flare gas in Texas but in Nigeria, it was a business policy. Same company, but different attitudes, in different lands!
Mr. Gore took time and explained why only local leaders could change the world. You may make all the laws in the world but it is left to local leaders to enforce them or where necessary improve them to meet local needs. Simply, he threw it to Nigerians to police Chevron in the way they would expect the energy giant to behave.
The SAP and Google Training Numbers
The same double standards we are dealing with energy companies are creeping into technology companies. From SAP press release:
With an ambitious target of training half a million African youth between 18 and 25 October, Africa Code Week again this year exceeded all expectations by empowering 1.3 million youth across 35 countries with basic coding skills. This is also a 203% increase over the 2016 iteration, which had seen nearly 427 000 youth trained across 30 African countries.
According to Claas Kuehnemann, Acting Managing Director of SAP Africa, much of Africa Code Week’s success lies in the strength and support of its partners and collaborators. “Over the past three years Africa Code Week has grown into one of the best-supported and most far-reaching digital skills development initiatives on the African continent, with a broad range of governments, NGOs, private sector companies, educators, students and scholars all contributing to empowering one of the largest and most youthful workforces on the planet. We extend our gratitude to everyone who made this year such a resounding success, and look forward to building on its best practices over the years to come.”
Yes, SAP through its works has trained 1.3 million young Africans on coding. Clap your hands as we have extra 1.3 million coders for 2017 alone. I call this unfortunate because no one challenges these companies when they throw out these nice pleasing press releases.
Google is doing the same thing through its efforts to train 10 million Africans on the workforce of the future. When I visited Nigeria last time, I attended an event where one of those training programs happened. What I saw was a four-hour PowerPoint presentation. The trainer explained all the digital strategies. At the end, everyone in the audience has been trained on digital marketing. Perhaps, she got there 250 and the march to 10 million continues.
Alphabet Inc’s Google aims to train 10 million people in Africa in online skills over the next five years in an effort to make them more employable, its chief executive said on Thursday
Google’s pledge marked an expansion of an initiative it launched in April 2016 to train young Africans in digital skills. It announced in March it had reached its initial target of training one million people.
The company is “committing to prepare another 10 million people for jobs of the future in the next five years,” Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told a company conference in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos.
There is no problem with what SAP, Google and others are doing. They are offering services and people truly benefit. We must commend them and support them. However, I hate it when they design different standards on initiatives because they are in Africa, leaving what has worked in America. Google will not use the word “train” if it goes into Baltimore (USA), show a PowerPoint and come out to tell the governor that it has trained the citizens. That will not happen.
For Google to claim it has trained, it must have actually impacted real skills to young people. Apple is investing money in community colleges to train students on how to code. This investment involves hiring new teachers, buying equipment, upgrading curricula and then executing a program over months for the kids. When they graduate, they would have been trained indeed. Toyota North America does a similar thing on welding, casting etc. I mean these companies impact real skills to young people.
Water Everywhere, But No Water to Drink
If Google has produced REAL one million digital marketers and SAP produced 1.3 million basic coders just for 2017, you will feel the impact in Africa. Where are they? The reality is that there is marginal value, as those claimed to have been trained are not even aware that they have been trained. Google, SAP and others have the right incentives but they want big numbers to look great. Unfortunately, that is not necessary.
Google and SAP are smart companies: they know that picking 100k young Africans and develop them as elite coders and professionals will have more impacts than what they are doing today, pursuing mass numbers in millions.
But they will continue to do so, as no one cares to question them to improve, and deliver value, even as they take credits on things which do not necessarily exist. I do not believe that the 1.3 million coders that SAP is claiming it has trained this year have met the basic standards of coding. They may use the word “exposed” but using “train” is a disservice to companies that offer real training to young people. This is not a game of quantity: quality rules, and SAP and Google are the best companies to know that. Africa’s problem is not that we do not have 3 million coders. In my opinion, the issue is that we do not have good 100,000 coders.
Yes, if Google takes 100,000 young people and turn them into elite digital professionals and SAP picks 100k and do the same thing, the continent will experience more catalytic impacts than the poorly prepared millions. I commend the generosity: they just have to make the initiatives more impactful by focusing on quality over quantity.