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Enabling Township Entrepreneurs for Opportunities in the Digital Economy

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution becomes a reality to rest of the world, as citizens we are becoming more dependent on digital technology, more specifically, internet connectivity to conduct our daily activities; which contributed to the rising of a new economy commonly known as the digital economy. A proper understanding and effective use of digital technology is becoming a main enabler for economic growth for most countries in the world.

The South African government has acknowledged that it has a responsibility to ensure digital inclusivity for the majority of its citizens and sectors of the economy. This highlights the need for an enabling platform for economic enterprise, active citizenship, and social engagement innovation that an internet supported digital ecosystem will make possible, especially in places such as townships and rural communities. Government has indicated its commitment at the national, provincial and local government spheres to grow township economies; the recent ICT SMME strategy making important commitments to fostering mobile technology in townships.

The Township Economy is a high impact focus area as the majority of poor South Africans live in townships and informal settlements. Townships are places of high aspiration, upward mobility and concentration of Bottom of Pyramid entrepreneurship. As zones of economic convergence, townships are regarded as a potential growth driver for the economy.

Digital opportunities

Effective use of digital technology can be an exceptional opportunity for South African townships, both as an accelerator for development and for new sectors of activity for entrepreneurs to excel. South Africa needs to train hundreds of thousands of people in digital technology in order to seize this opportunity.

To rise to the challenge of the digital revolution taking place in Africa and the rest of world, all citizens including entrepreneurs need to be trained how to use digital technology and understand the new economy (digital economy) to boost growth and focus on new sectors of business that create jobs.

The Digital Economy can deliver many benefits for township entrepreneurs. This would include opening new markets, better access to markets, improving business efficiencies, access to capital. Digitizing access to worldwide resources could help township start-ups and micro-businesses to grow their businesses and get into the mainstream economy. To take advantage of this new economy most township entrepreneurs have to learn about digital technology and be upskilled with relevant digital skills.

The CoLab intervention

To lay a proper foundation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Western Cape CoLab conducted research on how to deliver a digital skills programme to help entrepreneurs from townships and rural communities to align their entrepreneurial journey with the Fourth Industrial Revolution in order to participate in the Digital Economy.

The research led to the design and development of a training course named Digital Economy for Township Entrepreneurs.

The course is designed for township entrepreneurs to understand the forces and dynamics of the digital economy. They get to experience the energy, dynamics and thinking of the digital economy and start- up culture. Furthermore, they also learn to better understand how exponential technologies and a new generation of entrepreneurs are reshaping the world. The training aims to help entrepreneurs understand how the digital economy is changing the world and transforming township business landscape. They also learn skills to design business models to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Course pilot roll-out

First pilot training attendees in Silulo Business Incubator, Watergate Mall, Mitchels Plain

The training programme is a two-day face-to-face intervention focusing on teaching entrepreneurs, from township environment, to integrate the tools, technologies and business models of the digital economy into their businesses.

The CoLab organised two separate pilot training sessions around Cape Town to test the training’s content and get feedback from entrepreneurs about the overall training. The first pilot took place on the 18th and 19th of March 2019 at Silulo Business Incubation in Mitchells Plain with 22 entrepreneurs from Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha attended. The second pilot took place on the 18th and 19th of June 2019 in Philippi Village and Business Centre in Philippi attracting 25 entrepreneurs from Philippi, Gugulethu and Nyanga.

Both sessions were a great success with 100% of attendees regarding the training as relevant to their journey as entrepreneurs. Participants stated that it helped them to understand how to participate in the digital economy.

The Next Step

Going forward Western CoLab aims to offer the training programme to township entrepreneurs throughout the Western Cape Province; and establish further relationships with stakeholders, from both public and private sector, to help provide the course to township entrepreneurs in other provinces of South Africa.

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