A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s become clear that reaching the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 is going to be a steep uphill climb. Alan AtKisson, the Director of Partnerships & Innovation at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency wrote last month, “Neither nature nor global politics has been especially kind to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.” But he does not believe that all hope is lost. “There are no silver linings in a global pandemic. But there are unexpected things to observe and to learn from—such as the dramatic acceleration of digitalization,” he wrote.
Digitalization in Africa has accelerated in the past year from merchants selling through social commerce platforms and getting paid via mobile money to students learning over platforms like Nigeria’s uLesson which raised a $7.5M Series A in January. But for the level of growth that is needed, Africa is still the least connected region in the world with only 28.2% internet coverage and 34% mobile broadband coverage according to the United Nations, one cannot rely on individuals and startups alone to change behaviors. Government intervention is required. But governments are not necessarily known for their innovation, speed, and technical know-how.
This is where Dima Kandalaft joins the picture. Kandalaft is the Director of Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) Program covering the Middle East and Africa. Cisco is a global technology company that serves nearly every industry with hardware, software, and networking solutions.
According to Kandalaft, the CDA program helps governments to “accelerate and realize the value of digitization faster” by setting up demonstration projects. The CDA Program is active in 40 countries around the world and typically the Cisco team works with high-level government officials to align the program with national priorities. Right now, in Africa, the program is only active in South Africa and Eygpt, but they do have plans to expand into other African countries in the near future. In these markets, they have taken a slightly different approach. “In Africa in particular, we decided that this top down approach might not really work because sometimes the government is heading in a different direction and it’s not really seen at the bottom. You want to create that platform, or that environment, where you’re actually growing from within and have empowered organic growth for the African country,” said Kandalaft.
In South Africa, they launched EDGE Centers across 9 districts nationwide. EDGE stands for Experience, Design, Go-to-Market, and Earn. It’s an MSME (micro, small, and medium enterprise) development program where MSMEs are hosted within the center for a period of 90 days and are given access to Cisco products and platforms. “They come in, they can they do their work out of those centers, and they can host their own customers into the EDGE Centers. They basically completely reduce or eliminate their opex and capex investments,” explained Dima. In addition to the EDGE Centers, which are considered a corporate investment, Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility arm does free training on their solutions so that trainees are equipped to work with the businesses in the EDGE Centers.