COVID-19 has accelerated the rate of digital technology adoption around the world, but also revealed the depth of the digital divide worldwide. For millions of people living in Africa, who do not have access to the internet or laptops and smartphones, the pandemic has resulted in greater social and economic isolation.
In 2020, 56.3 per cent of South Africa’s 60-million population were internet users. This figure is expected to increase to 57.8per cent this year, up to 62.3 per cent by 2025. Internet World Stats figures suggest that by December 2020, about 634 million people in Africa were internet users, amounting to 47.6 per cent of the continent’s population.
Many factors play a role in entrenching the continent’s digital divide, most notably the high cost of technology and connectivity, which is exacerbated by the lack of reliable network infrastructure.
The pandemic, with its lockdowns and restrictions, has hit Africans hard, leading to job losses, food insecurity, entrenched poverty and – perhaps most worryingly – major setbacks in education delivery.
One organisation that is committed to driving digital inclusion in Africa and globally is media and telecommunications software and services provider, Amdocs. The company employs 26,000 people around the world and creates opportunities for 70,000 more through its operations and supply chain.
Its initiatives in Kenya and Mexico have assisted hundreds of thousands of people during the pandemic. Currently in the planning phase, the company is currently working on another digital inclusion project in South Africa.
Amdocs, VP: Customer Business Executive, George Fraser says the company’s overriding social impact strategy is to provide digital solutions that address world problems. “As a company that creates digital journeys for our customers, we have the skills and capabilities to pay it forward to the communities that need us the most. The past year has resulted in just about everything going remote, and our ability to accelerate digital inclusion has become our number one focus.”
One of its key projects – conducted in conjunction with Safaricom Foundation – was to provide internet access to children in Kenya. “The initiative is a perfect example of how employee engagement and social impact can meet,” explains Fraser.
“Every year, we conduct an organisational health survey, which is open to all employees. In 2020, we incentivised employees to take part by promising internet access to one child in Kenya for every survey completed. The response was astonishing. Employees received the initiative really well and there was a significant increase in the number of surveys completed last year,” notes Fraser.
Amdocs employees reported that the initiative made them feel more connected and engaged with the company and its initiatives. It made them feel proud to work for an organisation that was making a tangible impact in other peoples’ lives.
Another highly successful project was the creation of an app to connect food insecure people in Mexico to businesses with excess food. The app is currently helping more than 400,000 people access food. The project is entirely volunteer-run – in collaboration with local authorities – and is Amdocs’ most impactful initiative to date.
In addition, the company runs digital skills training aimed at specific target populations, whether it is showing the elderly how to use communication platforms to connect with their loved ones or teaching women and children basic – or more advanced digital skills – to increase their digital literacy or enhance their employability.
Amdocs is currently running an internal competition for its employees to get ideas on how to take digital inclusion forward and help solve problems the world is facing. “We are also looking for two projects in Africa to support this year – they need to be legitimate organisations, such as universities or NGOs, that can demonstrate viable solutions to social challenges. Our role will be to bring the technological expertise to the mix,” notes Fraser.
He says Amdocs’ role does not stop with its own programmes. “We also help other organisations to find ways to address social issues in their respective countries and regions, for example, we assisted an Australian company in its drive to provide free data to students.”
Digital inclusion is so high on the agenda at Amdocs that shareholders are updated on progress in this area – alongside business and financial results. “Our company’s purpose is ‘enriching lives and progressing society’. This is not just our CSR purpose. We are profoundly aware of the inequality that the digital divide creates; the massive gap between the privileged and underprivileged; and the inequality in their access to education and other services.
“That’s why we are committed to providing life-changing help to people who need it the most, for example, giving children access to the internet or device when they cannot go to school. This could mean the difference between losing a year at school, maybe even giving up, or advancing to the next year and progressing in life,” concludes Fraser.