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Q&A: Google’s Bunmi Banjo chats Africa’s digital skills growth

Google’s African operations have had a week to celebrate, following the news that they’ve hit their goal of training one million Africans. The training sees citizens using Google’s Digital Skills Programme, covering everything from social media marketing/strategy to analytics, advertising and online video.

Bunmi Banjo has been at the forefront of the initiative, being Google’s Growth Engine and Brand Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa. We conducted a Q&A with Banjo, focusing on the programme, entrepreneurship in general and more.

Memeburn: You recently held an AfricaCom talk titled, ‘Why technology providers and OEMs should be the strongest contributors to initiating new start-up businesses in tech and online?’. How do you convince tech CEOs to get involved? Is it easier to convince tech CEOs than heads of other companies?

Bunmi Banjo (BB): The success of large companies is connected to the number of successful small businesses that run on their technology. The more people we have embracing tech, the more useful it is for everyone else. A larger pool of users means the early adopters have a larger pool to connect with; more users and deeper usage means an engaged base for businesses to advertise to. Businesses advertising means more income and users find useful products and services quickly and effectively. All of this means a more robust ecosystem which ultimately benefits everyone.

By building the ecosystem today, tech CEOs position their companies for success in the future. With growing device and internet adoption in Africa, potentially reaching 500m users by 2020, it makes business sense. Tech CEOs understand the potential of Africa and are thus willing to take short term risk to build the market, helping economies grow in the process.

I think business leaders generally understand that there is potential in Africa. The challenge is usually how to get at that potential. Because tech companies would usually have users on the continent even before physical entry, it may be a little bit easier to access the market. This doesn’t mean it’s difficult to convince non-tech CEOs, but it’s often necessary to get market level data to support the case for investment.

Memeburn: On the other end of the spectrum… How do we best encourage people to become entrepreneurs themselves?

BB: The growth of entrepreneurship in Africa is critical to the survival of our continent. We’re currently as a region creating about three million jobs per year while more than 11 million job seekers are entering the market. Africans therefore need to create their own opportunities to earn an income and contribute to the economy.

The good news is that starting a business now is a lot easier than it used to be. The capital requirements are no longer there for many business types; for example, physical spaces are not often required, entrepreneurs can use their mobile device to perform a lot of business tasks, and they can limit overhead by using freelancers. They can also get the word out with little investment — using social media, online advertising and so on.

People are also using data to determine which businesses to start and where to focus versus doing it blindly in the past. These days, if you have a good idea and you’re committed to making the idea work, you’re already on your way to being successful.

Memeburn: You’ve also played a pivotal part in setting up the programme to train hundreds of thousands of youth on the continent. How did that come about? Also, did it take much convincing from Google’s side?

BB: Developing youth in Africa is something I am very passionate about. With 75% of our population under 35 years old and 500M people of working age in the next 5 years, it is imperative that we create opportunities for young people and equip them with the tools with which they can secure a good future.

There’s a digital gap between Africa and the rest of the world. For example, average internet penetration across the globe is 54% while in Africa that number is 29%. This is why I’ve chosen to focus on Digital Skills — to help close the digital gap in Africa, while improving employability and encouraging entrepreneurship among young people.

I’m fortunate to work for an organisation that encourages its leaders to drive initiatives that they are passionate about, and so this has been something that I’ve been doing for the last several years. The truth is that for organisations that are in Africa for the long haul, it’s almost impossible to ignore the youth. The entire future of your business depends on them; if they don’t have disposable income, you don’t have a business so it makes sense to invest in their development now.

Memeburn: When will the offline courses be available?

BB: Offline training is currently available across Africa. We have 700+ individuals across the region that deliver content on a daily basis. However, for those in areas where there are no sessions being held and where access to the internet might be challenging to take courses online, we are working on making the online courses available via offline kits. We plan to pilot this by June 2017.

Memeburn: Are there any demographic details (gender, age etc) for the one million people trained?

BB: We aim to ensure gender balance in all our training and actively work with women’s groups to train large groups of young women. Forty-seven percent of all those trained to date are women. We target 18-35 year olds for training. More than 35% of those that come to training are job seekers, about 25% are small business owners and others are split between students, current professionals looking to switch or grow their careers and others attending for personal development.

Memeburn: Will there be any tailor-made courses for people in areas of low access? Or will they have access to the same courses as those in areas of better access?

BB: The internet is for everyone. We ensure that all people in all communities have access to the same content and can tailor learning to where they are on their journey. We also ensure that our training partners have trainers that are from all the communities in which we offer training so that they can tailor program content to the needs of that community.

We are regularly reviewing our curated programme content to ensure it meets the needs of the learners and update these whenever we discover gaps. This includes making content simpler and more basic when it makes sense or more advanced when there is a need for that.

Memeburn: What have been your favourite success stories as a result of this initiative?

BB: We have received hundreds of success stories from a cross section of segments across the continent and these have all been inspiring each in their own way. Some of my favourite are:

  • Anorth Mabunda from Limpopo who quit his job to become a digital skills trainer because he wanted to do more to help his community to access information that would lead to growth. Anorth in a few months became one of the star trainers in SA, holding a record 23 training events in one month.

  • Vanessa Morris from Nigeria, a journalist by training, who struggled to find a job after school. After attending the Digital Skills training and learning about digital marketing, she found that she could use her skills of content creation in the digital space. She found a job as a Social Media Manager in one of Nigeria’s leading TV stations, Ultima Studios within one month of attending training- an accomplishment she credits to the Digital Skills training.

Memeburn: What’s been the biggest challenge in getting to this point?

BB: Our biggest challenge has been how to ensure that the training is driving real impact in the lives of the people trained and their communities. This is why impact is a focus area for us going forward. We see the training as a starting point, but we want to engage those trained, help them continue to grow and apply learnings in a way that ultimately helps to drive growth across Africa.

Memeburn: Inversely, why do you think the project got to its target this soon?

BB: There is huge demand for training in the market. Young people know that the web is a powerful tool for progress. However many of them have not really learned how to exploit the benefits of the internet. This training helps them to get started on this journey, therefore we’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm and participation.

Additionally, governments and other large organisations have also supported us given that we all have the same goals of helping young people to become even more productive and growing the continent.

Memeburn: What’s been the best performing country in the programme?

BB: The majority of the people trained so far have been from Nigeria and Kenya. The main reasons for this have been the level of interest and support from key government bodies and strategic partnerships with several large organisations. We hope to replicate these successes in other countries in 2017 and beyond.

Memeburn: We tend to see global tech companies say that the continent excites them, but never backing up their claims by launching services/products for the continent. What do you make of that?

BB: Tools by large companies are typically developed to address needs globally. For example, the major needs of a small business owner are similar across the globe – reaching more customers, improving efficiency, and so on. The same is true for students, large organisations, public institutions and so on. For the most part available technology can therefore be effectively used in Africa. However, there are local nuances that would improve adoption and impact if incorporated in available technology. I think this is a role for local developers to play.

While tech companies are helping people to adopt technology through more affordable devices, improved connectivity, skills training and so on, homegrown tools ideally should be built by people that live in our environments, understand our problems and can offer solutions that directly address these problems. This is why Google is also focusing on training for local developers.

Memeburn: We also see the same with govt initiatives for connectivity/skills, as your earlier tweet points out. What do you make of this?

BB: Africa’s youth population is rapidly growing and we’re already struggling with providing opportunities to young people as it is. A study by the United Nations found that 40% of people who join rebel movements are motivated by lack of economic opportunity. People who are optimistic about the future make better decisions.

We have an urgent problem on our hands and therefore need to take quick and effective actions to show young people the path to a successful future. The steps we take in this regard will have economic and socio-political implications. Plans are great, but our governments therefore need to act now.

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More