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by Steve Tzikakis, SAP President EMEA South

We all face an exciting – but uncertain – time ahead. The disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will change every facet of work and life over the coming decades. We will need to confront global challenges such as the socio-economic effects of workplace automation. climate change and the rise of new diseases and super bugs. Improvements in medicine will extend the human lifespan, leading to ageing populations and swelling populations. This will put strain on our natural resources and force us to develop innovative new ways to meet basic human needs such as food and shelter.

New technologies such as the IoT, artificial intelligence, gene editing and quantum computing will upend traditional industries and disrupt our lives in ways we can’t yet predict. This during a time when nearly half the world still lives on less than $2.50 a day.

According to the latest Statistics South Africa figures, 55% of the country’s citizens live in poverty. On my latest trip to the country of Nelson Mandela, I was struck by how citizens, businesses and governments are remarkably rising to the challenges of this new age. The disadvantage posed by a lack of infrastructure is being turned into a competitive edge as innovators develop future-fit solutions unburdened by legacy IT systems.

South African entrepreneurs are creating inspiring solutions to the problems in their local communities: from 3D-printed aircraft components to new biofuel refineries, and new ways to pay for – and trade – goods using mobile phones. There is a wealth of new ideas emerging from the country’s young pioneers. According to the Brookings Institute, Africa is the world’s second-fastest urbanising continent and cities such as Cape Town are adopting technology platforms to enable it to manage rapid urbanisation.

By 2050 South Africa’s working age population will have increased by 28%, or 10 million people, according to World Bank data, at the same time the total working age population in Africa crosses the 1-billion mark. These millennial workers will power the global economic engine in the second part of the century. But they need the digital skills to succeed. Some experts predict that today’s children will witness humanity’s greatest challenges in their lifetime. It is our duty as guardians of their future to equip them with the knowledge and tools to rise to these challenges.

The best investment we can make right now is in education and training.

To overcome the limitations of the formal education system, South African government, NGOs and private sector companies are coming together to fast-track digital skills development among the youth. From a base of 89 000 youth trained in its first year, SAP’s Africa Code Week initiative will this year aim to teach basic coding skills to half a million African youth, leveraging local networks and building on a platform of collaboration with our partners. The diversity of South Africa’s young workforce also points to an encouraging future for innovation on the continent: the so-called Rainbow Nation is a wealth of diversity and divergent thought.

According to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Women’s Report, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest female entrepreneurship rates in the world: 25.9 per cent of the female adult population is engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity in some form. Six out of ten said they started a business because of opportunity, not need. We must celebrate and encourage diversity in our businesses and our lives. The future belongs to high-impact collaborative teams that can combine different perspectives and skills in creative ways to solve great problems.

Large global organisations have an important role to play here: by providing a technology platform delivered in the cloud, companies such as SAP can help equip these entrepreneurs with tools that could exponentially grow and expand their businesses.

More than 80% of SAP’s customers are SMEs. Our solutions for SMEs, such as SAP Business One, are being adopted by local entrepreneurs at breakneck pace, helping them scale and reach new markets that were once the reserve of large multinationals. And with 95% of small businesses failing within the first five years, we have the opportunity to use our knowledge and resources to support and grow these businesses.

In a hyper-connected global economy, we collectively share success –  and failure. What I’ve seen on my trip to South Africa left me with one key impression: we have all the ingenuity, innovation, energy, curiosity and tools to rise to the great challenges of our time. This is good news not only for the continent, but for the world.

And I love to tell a good news story.

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