Getting lost in hashtags on Twitter is always fun. If you have time, then start buzzing around #AfricaCan. The reason I got lost down this particular wormhole was Cognizant’s Future of Work landed in Nairobi last week as guests of Cognizant’s East Africa team in Kenya. We were there to learn how the future of work would play out in this part of the world and how Cognizant could help. And judging on what we saw, there is a lot of opportunity beginning to brew. There was a sense of optimism about the possibilities ahead that somehow we’ve lost in Europe. Let me give you an example.
One of Africa’s innovators of the year was 30-year-old Arthur Zang. He hails from Cameroon and won a $25,000 prize for his cardio pad that’s set to change the world. Some backstory—Arther Zang’s uncle died of heart disease, simply because he couldn’t see a cardiologist in time. It happens because Cameroon, with its population of 22 million people, has a grand total of 50 cardiologists mostly divided between its two main cities near the coast. There is a whole hinterland with no heart doctors at all. If you want some context, then Holland with a similar population to Cameroon has over 1850 cardiologists, and they’re spread out evenly across the country. Arthur’s uncle died because he couldn’t afford to travel the huge distances needed to get to a cardiologist for his diagnosis and medication. With 1 in 2 Africans over the age of 25 suffering from hypertension like Arther Zang’s uncle, you can begin to understand the scale of the problem.
The solution is elegant in its simplicity and powerful in its application. It leverages the tools we all now take for granted—data, platforms, algorithms together with mobile technology. It involves an iPad with four electrodes attached to it that are then plugged onto the patient’s body. The electrodes read the patient’s heart data and transmit it back to the iPad; the iPad then communicates the data via a mobile network to a remote cardiologist who sees a digital replica of the patient’s heart on his/her computer, thousands of miles away. The diagnosis is complete within twenty minutes, and the medical station receives a prescription via a mobile device from the cardiologist which can then be released by local staff at the medical station. This is the power of SMAC (remember SMAC? The Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud force multiplier for work on everything?) and its saving lives across sub-Saharan Africa. It’s now in use in remote parts of India and Asia. Sometimes, we forget how simple and compelling these technologies can be when put in a different context. We’re jaded; they rightly, see the opportunity.
The context behind Africa’s digital push is clear. While our population in the West shrinks, Africa’s is set to explode over this century. While we have to embrace clean technologies and climate change goals, Africa is rightly asking how can it ensure its economies will grow and prosper, delivering a standard of living fit for its people, as we have in the West. My colleague Mike Cook (a fellow African) found a compelling data-point that framed our visit and demonstrates the scale of the challenge ahead. In 80 years, Africa’s share of the world’s population will grow over 10X, climbing from its current 1 billion to a staggering 11 billion in a couple of generations.
Meanwhile, our population growth is done, stabilizing at 0.7 billion for the next 80 years or so. No wonder we’re so worried about paying for health-care in the West with a dwindling population and a huge welfare bill. Perhaps initiatives like Albert Zang’s could be critical tools in our effort support our aging populations.
Africa presents opportunities to its incumbent companies and a host of new rising digital stars. We met many of those rising digital stars during our visit, and I challenge you to find a co-working space in Nairobi that doesn’t go toe-to-toe with the energy and dynamism found in the West. And you know what? Perhaps they had more because their work is truly changing people’s lives. We met a fascinating bunch of local entrepreneur’s eager to use the new tools for work to make a difference to Kenya. We met a team experimenting with Blockchain and investigating how to use it to restrict corruption. We met social entrepreneurs working to connect communities with global NGOs to help the most disadvantaged in society. We discussed IoT with big infrastructure companies eager sense and predict asset use. We found UX designers running complex marketing campaigns for some of the world’s largest global companies; all supported from Kenya. I met some extremely smart people building digital banks and academies to educate the next generation of talent. And I met many people working on similar projects to Arther Zang, recreating healthcare for the poor—Africa’s gift to the world.
Cognizant is in Africa because we want to be part of the story. There is the opportunity for what we normally do—consulting and delivery, leveraging global knowledge for local situations—but I truly believe there are ideas emerging in Africa that will shape the rest of the world. Cognizant sees it’s role helping local players by orchestrating value through our partnerships and relationships within the local technology scene and burgeoning innovation scene. What really struck me was the energy on show in Nairobi. Leaders are keen to come together and figure out solutions for their future. So go on, dip in, take a look at #AfricaCan because Africa will!
PS. I met a fellow traveler on the road to the future while in Kenya, Sunny Bindra. He very kindly gave me his latest book The Bigger Deal. Sounds intriguing as The Bigger Deal is about better businesses, better careers, and better contributions to our shared humanity. It is a book about the meaning of work, success, and life. I started it on the plane home, and I am reading it now.