“The internet is the industrial revolution of our generation,” said Justin Stanford, Co-founder and CEO, 4Di Group at Big Tent Johannesburg on September 5 2013.
Google hosts “Big Tents” around the world to stimulate and facilitate discussion about the socioeconomic impacts of the internet. APC’s Alexandra Groome, Emilar Vushe, and Phil Mincher attended, enthusiastic about the first Big Tent in sub-Saharan Africa.
Insightful lightning talks were made by Chike Maduegbuna (founder and CEO of FansConnect Online and Afrinolly) and Evan Robinson (founder of the famous TaxTim).
“This is our time,” said Maduegbuna. And what better time could there be than now? According to a study commissioned by Dalberg Global Development Advisors on the impact of the internet on socioeconomic growth, less than 20% of Africa has access to the internet and less than 10% of businesses are online – yet a 1.38% growth in broadband results in a 10 fold increase in GDP growth. What this means is that there is massive unfulfilled potential but also huge opportunity – particularly for a country like South Africa with an unemployment rate of 26-28%.
Marlon Parker, founder of RLabs, emphasised the power of inclusive access. “It brings power to the masses,” he said. Knowledge is power. On the other hand, he pointed out that tension is a catalyst for innovation – a key speed bump for South Africa. While the digital revolution can exacerbate the digital divide, it also has huge potential to reduce it.
The Dalberg study also found that policymakers are not regarding policy as a cross cutting enabler of ICT and innovation when it is such a critical component. In fact, several speakers describe South Africa’s regulatory environment as unfriendly. The exchange control laws, dating back to the 1960s, “are a disincentive for high growth entrepreneurs to stay here,” said Stanford. Venture capital is discouraged as well.
Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist of Google (one of the most unique titles I have ever encountered), spoke compellingly about his career history. Cerf is widely regarded as one of the founders of the internet. He spoke of emerging technologies that will change the world, amongst them: shared spectrum (such as the Cape Town TV White Spaces trial), Project Loon, and O3b Networks. Check them out!
While Big Tent was very informative and inspiring, it was disheartening that there was not a single civil society voice amongst the speakers. Nonetheless, it was heartening to hear South Africa’s Minister of Communications, Yunus Carrim, make an impactful statement in his key note address: “Civil society needs to be organised and put pressure on government to deliver on ICT goals.” Thanks for that, Carrim.