Universities on the continent are well positioned to help solve several key challenges on the path to a digital future. Through collaboration, they can:
- Develop Africa’s technical talent: Finding qualified manpower with the necessary skills in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector is a challenge in Africa. Over 50 percent of youth in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to formal education, and only 2 percent of the labor force has IT skills. The limited talent pool commands higher salaries, reducing labor price competitiveness.
- Build African digital solutions: Some African countries have tried to use imported digital solutions. However, without adequate customization to the local socio-cultural contexts, they end up being inaccessible or unusable. In addition, most African governments outsource the majority of their technology infrastructure and operations. This puts them at the mercy of foreign entities that have full control of their critical infrastructures. Every nation should have the capacity to develop and maintain its own digital needs. These governments need universal guidance and safeguards to enable safe technology.
- Connect funding efforts: There is significant philanthropic funding surrounding the human aspects of DPI, and a lot of venture capital funds fintech to build better technology. However, these efforts tend to be disconnected from each other. For instance, CGAP Funder Survey data shows that for the first time in 2019, Sub-Saharan Africa received more financial inclusion funding than any other region, with $7.6 billion in active commitments. On the other hand, after a somewhat difficult 2020, venture capital flowing into African startups raised in the first half of 2021 totaled more than $1 billion. Unfortunately, these remarkable numbers did not prevent a slowdown of financial inclusion in Africa that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Universities can tie together philanthropic and venture capitalist efforts in a trustworthy manner.
- Facilitate interoperability and reusability in digital platforms: Despite the promise and significance of DPGs and DPI, there is little global coordination or consensus about how to design the technical building blocks of these systems and how they should interact with each other. The current siloed development gives no guarantee that technologies will integrate or that they will satisfy basic quality standards. Collaboration will allow a layering of services, the leveraging of other technologies, and eventual data sharing. But, to enable such collaboration, DPGs and DPIs must be interoperable, both with other DPGs and DPIs, and with different deployments of the same DPG and DPI.
- Ensure long-term sustainability of digital solutions: It takes significant human capital and investments to create, deploy, and operate DPGs. Without a clear and efficient sustainability model, the DPGs and DPIs will remain hypothetical. For DPGs and DPIs to have a transformative impact, we need pathways that outline how they will be created, integrated into existing workflows, and sustained. Moreover, to understand the end-to-end properties of DPGs and DPIs, we need evaluation frameworks and infrastructure to assess them not only at creation time, but also during the deployment and operation stages.