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Internet In Our Bodies?

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Some of the life-changing tech trends the world will see in 2019.


From automated transportation, to digital pills  and social credit algorithms, technological advancements are growing at the speed of light.

The big question is, can we keep up with the pace?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society, based in New York City, predicts some of the future tech trends for 2019.

Deep learning accelerators, assisted transportation, and the Internet of Bodies (IoB) lead their 2019 technology outlook.

Some local experts weigh in on this from an African perspective and contribute and identify some of the tech trends we can look out for.

Assisted automated transportation

Assisted transportation is already in use in some countries.

The phenomena of self-driving cars has been growing.

Although many critics fear that it still needs more time to test and trial, IEEE experts predict that there will be a wide recognition for fully autonomous vehicles this year.

“I don’t think self-driving cars would solve a major social need in Africa at the moment,” says Aatish Ramkaran, who is a Digital Architect at Nedbank and Co-Founder of Blockchain Entrepreneurs Club South Africa.

“What we really need are better, more affordable mass passenger transport systems, as the majority of the South African workforce live significant distances from their workplaces,”

Ramkaran adds.

This technology in autonomous vehicles is highly dependent on deep learning accelerators.

Early last month, a robot was struck down by a self-driving Tesla Model S.

Electrical engineer Darryn Cornish predicts that it may take a while before self-driving cars become a trend in Africa, “mainly because we don’t have a law around it”.

He currently serves as the chair for the IEEE in South Africa and is pursuing his PhD in high voltage physics at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Your social media could reveal your credit score

The IEEE report states that these are algorithms that use facial recognition and other advanced biometrics to identify a person and retrieve data about that person from social media and other digital profiles for the purpose of approval or denial of access to consumer products or social services.

“In our increasingly networked world, the combination of biometrics and blended social data streams can turn a brief observation into a judgment of whether a person is a good or bad risk or worthy of public social sanction,” says the report.

“Using social media to check credit scores could work for someone who doesn’t have the transaction history that’s built with a bank account,” Ramkaran says.

He says this method attempts to build a psychological profile using your social media behavior, rather than your banking history, to indicate whether you would honor your loan repayment.

“Discovery Bank, which claims to be the first behavioural bank, is taking this a step further by not only observing, but actually influencing your behavior,” he says.

At the moment, China has been popular for planning to incorporate a nationwide social credit system.

It is due to be fully operational nationwide by 2020.

However, a report by Business Insider critiques this method of checking credit scores as people with low credit scores in China have been banned from flying, as well as banning students from certain universities as they have been considered bad students.

“Li Xiaolin, a lawyer who was placed on the list in 2015, found himself unable to purchase plane tickets home while on a work trip, Human Rights Watch reported. He also couldn’t apply for credit cards,” says Business Insider.

Internet implants?

We’ve heard of Internet of Things, a buzz phrase that came with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Internet of Bodies (IoB), on the other hand, is exactly that; internet activity found within the human body.

There have already been external self-monitoring technologies such as fitness trackers and smart glasses.

IEEE now predicts that “digital pills are entering mainstream medicine, and body-attached, implantable, and embedded IoB devices are also beginning to interact with sensors in the environment”.

“These devices yield richer data that enable more interesting and useful applications, but also raise concerns about security, privacy, physical harm, and abuse,” the report says.

Critics, however, are concerned that they could be setting dangerous precedents and courts and regulatory bodies may not be ready for them yet.

“The biggest concern for a while now has been around the transparency and protection of personal data being collected by devices and their service providers on consumers that wear or have ingested Internet of Bodies type devices,” says Lee Naik, CEO, TransUnion

Africa and a digital and technology transformation expert.

Examples of these are smart contact lenses that are being developed to monitor glucose levels and could eliminate the daily blood sugar pinprick for people with diabetes.

Other devices are the Bluetooth-equipped electronic pills being developed to monitor the inner workings of the  body.

They could eventually broadcast what you’ve eaten or whether you’ve taken drugs.

Another emerging piece of technology related to the IoB is the radio-frequency identification chip that can contain details of a person’s bank details and identification in a chip implanted in the body.

In a report by The Independent, a company by the name of Biohax has implanted chips in more than 4,000 people.

“Further regulation will be required to protect consumer interests in relation to the Internet of Bodies, specifically to deal with the security of consumer personal data which needs to be effectively protected in balance with consumers receiving further benefits from innovation in this space,” Naik says.

Despite some of the concerns around IoB, a recent study published by Market Research Future reveals that the global smart contact lenses market is set to thrive at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 10.4% during the forecast period 2017 to 2023.

This could potentially change the way personal health is monitored and personal data is kept, connecting the body to the internet forever.

Cyber security pre-installed

IEEE experts suggest that a new generation of security mechanism is merging.

The traditional method of protecting computer systems looked at software such as anti-virus.

But now, new software uses an active approach such as hooks that can be activated when new types of attacks are exposed and machine-learning mechanisms to identify sophisticated attacks.

Already, cyber security solutions company McAfee announced at the Consumer Electronics Show 2019 that it would extend its collaboration with PC hardware giant Dell to provide pre-installed security software for its PCs and laptops.

According to Techradar, Dell Consumer and small business customers who purchase a new PC or laptop will also have the option to protect all of their devices with McAfee by installing the company’s cross-device software on their smartphones and tablets.

Selling your electricity to your neighbor

According to Cornish, this year, we may see the move from a concentrated power producer such as Eskom to a micro grid system.

The concentrated power is usually produced in a certain location and then distributed via transmission lines where it is used by the consumer.

With a micro grid system, it uses a distributed power system.

“Little communities have their own little power grids and can generate power where they use it,” Cornish says.

“In other words, your house would have solar power and whatever energy you have extra you would sell onto a grid and your whole community is a micro grid and a system controls who gets power and when.”

Ramkaran says this trend would really work well in Africa.

“The major issue holding back these ‘micro-grids’ are not technological. We are perfectly capable of building these systems, just look at Australia and Germany, but regulatory hurdles prevent their implementation locally,” he says.

Another trend is the emergence of a worldwide power grid.

According to a Reuters report, the world’s first ±1100-kV ultra-high voltage direct current transmission line was put into operation last month in China, marking the project with the highest voltage, the biggest transmission capacity, the longest transmission distance and the most advanced in technology in the world, running 3,293 kilometers long and having a transmission capacity of 12 million kW.

“There are many talks with China, Europe and Asia, to create a huge high voltage transmission line along the entire continent and possibly down to Africa. And it would be a worldwide grid that everyone could connect to.

“If we are suffering with power problems, we could buy power from China or Russia or whoever has spare capacity, so we get rid of that capacity issue,” says Cornish, who predicts this could happen in South Africa in the next five years.

Consumers the new producers

With the rise of blockchain data, crowdsourcing has become a growing trend, according to Cornish.

Using a blockchain platform for crowdsourcing helps solve a variety of tasks through a collective approach.

“We are moving towards a crowdsourced idea instead of having monolithic entities who create and consumers who consume. We are now going into the phase where consumers are now producers,” says Cornish.

According to Markets Insider, one of the world’s first blockchain-based e-commerce verification platform launched a platform by integrating blockchain, AI and crowdsourcing.

The platform SimplyBrand aims to end online counterfeiting through a safe and trustworthy digital commerce ecosystem in conjunction with strategic partner Cobinhood, a leading cryptocurrency service platform featuring zero-trading-fee exchange as well as an end-to-end ICO service provider. 

They launched their token pre-sale early last month.

Within this ecosystem, crowdsourced participants who report fake products through the SimplyBrand App can “earn token rewards to purchase brand privileged items or sell them on exchange, while brands can buy tokens from exchange and purchase brand-protection services,” according to Reuters.

“It would be interesting to see how we will be leveraging from that but we will be seeing much more of that,” Cornish says.

Ramkaran says that this trend of peer-to-peer exchange is intensifying.

“With established platforms like Airbnb and Uber, people have become comfortable with buying goods and services from others, however, they’ve also become aware of the high transaction fees they’re charged,” he says.

Personal data becomes personal advertising

Cornish predicts the rise of big data analytics.

Big data is known as extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.

“If you go into big data, you can start telling a lot about how a person lives. For example, if someone goes every Friday to buy a specific item, you could tell whether they get wages as opposed to salaries just from that load.”

“If you had their health data like Discovery does, you could collect that data and start targeting ads like Google.”

However, Cornish suggests that it would be interesting to see if Google would go ahead and collect consumer data as well. 

Naik says that businesses will start to invest in data science and AI to drive insights from their large and growing big data.

“Big Data will be central to helping businesses understand consumers better and develop products that best address consumer needs. Ultimately, big data and artificial intelligence will be a big driver of business strategy in future,” he says.

Ramkaran says that focus has shifted from ‘Big Data’ to ‘Machine and Deep Learning’, as companies have found more value in how specially trained algorithms interpret and make decisions on data.

“Tech giants like Facebook and Google have mastered the art of collecting your personal data, for free, which they leverage for massive advertising revenues.

“People are beginning to realize how they’re being exploited and manipulated, but based on the sheer numbers of connected users and power that these platforms have, it won’t be an easy fight,” adds Ramkaran.

 But with big data analytics as such, the ethics of tapping into personal information may be of concern.

Cornish predicts that it may take two years or more before big data analytics will trend.

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Lifting The Heavy Veil On Wedding Costs

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With pockets as deep as gold mines, how far are couples willing to go to have the picture-perfect luxe wedding?


The lagoons overlook the snow-white beaches with its swaying coconut trees, embraced by the turquoise waters of the sea in the island nation of Mauritius. It’s a scene straight out of a movie, with a couple cavorting in the distance.

Over 100 guests from South Africa have also gathered on these sands for the weekend wedding of businessman Lebo Gunguluza and his long-term girlfriend Lebo Mokoena. 

The total cost of this union: almost $300,000. 

“I didn’t mind exceeding the budget, because you only do this once,” says new bride Mokoena.

The couple flew over 30 guests and provided them with five-star accommodation at the LUX* Grand Gaube.  Part of the guest contingency included the behind-the-scenes crew for the wedding, as well as the speakers who had to spend four to seven days in Mauritius to prep up.

“We did not want to have a local wedding because we wanted our guests and family to have a different experience. We also wanted our family members who did not have passports and have never flown out of the country to experience a different country,” Gunguluza says.

Snow-white beaches of Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

The weekend celebrations started on a Friday last September with a cocktail meet-and-greet party. Belly dancers who were dressed in floral red and yellow danced the evening away with guests, with a local band taking them to the all-white party on Saturday.

This was just a build-up to the romantic wedding reception with shades of blush, ivory, and gold which was to take place on Sunday at 4PM.

“Every time I think about that day, I want to do it again,” the new bride says.

The couple chose not to have bridesmaids and groomsmen and the guests were encouraged to dress in black and white.

“I didn’t have bridesmaids because it makes you choose between your friends. I felt that if you got an invite to our wedding, you were worthy enough. So, we wanted everyone to be bridesmaids and groomsmen. I think we made it intimate and everybody felt like they were VIPs,” says Mokoena.

Everything fit perfectly as the bride’s two white wedding dresses were designed by Antherline Couture.

For the ceremony, she wore a white ball gown with a diamanté top heavily embellished with beads; while the groom looked dapper in a white tuxedo jacket designed by Master Suit SA.  

The color white was indeed conspicuous.

“I have always felt that white is pure and because I was signing my life away, I felt I needed to be pure, hence I said my husband needed to wear white as well,” she adds.

The lavish white wedding was organized by renowned wedding planner Precious Tumisho Thamaga who ditched her seven-year career in Public Relations & Marketing to become an event planner.

Thamaga organizes events and weddings for affluent clients such as the Gunguluzas.

“They are busy people and they don’t have time to do the administration and the back and forth of vetting in suppliers,” Thamaga says, as she takes over the pain of wedding planning.

Lebo Mokoena and Lebo Gunguluza (middle) with wedding guests in Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

While working in the corporate world, she had attended many weddings that she felt were put together in a way that created a disconnect between the guests and the wedding couple.

“So I saw an opportunity in the fact that there were not a lot of wedding planners that were black,”  Thamaga says. 

She decided to focus on corporate clients in order to turn her passion into a profitable business.

“A lot of people did not expect a black person to be professional and take the business seriously.

“It was not just a hobby or someone helping out a family. It was an actual business and I made sure that I got taken seriously from the onset,” Thamaga says.

In order for Precious Celebrations (the name of her company) to prosper, she had to have a business strategy in place.

“I made sure that I put a lot of time and effort and strategized properly what it was that I wanted to actually focus on, and find a niche [in]. I believed that would separate me from somebody that was already in the industry,” Thamaga says.

However, her job is not always alluring.


Lebo Mokoena and Lebo Gunguluza’s wedding in Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

“When I started in the industry there weren’t so many wedding planners and now it is a different story and everyone thinks it is easy-peasy and it is glamorous,” she says. 

Planning a luxurious wedding takes eight to 12 months and can cost anywhere between R300,000 ($20,813) to R4.5 million ($312,203).

The most expensive wedding Thamaga planned was for a public figure she cannot disclose the name of. 

“It was a destination wedding and the experience from when the guests arrived to the wedding day was memorable. When they arrived, we had a cocktail party and we had activities like canoeing and on Sunday we had an all-white party. [This is] so that people don’t depart on Sunday and may leave on Monday.” 

Only the affluent sign up.

“The smallest wedding that I have had to plan had 80 people and it cost R2 million ($138,000),”  Thamaga says.

She has turned away some clients in the past because their budget was insufficient for the type of wedding they envisioned. 

Thamaga organizes 26 weddings, on average, annually, from countries such as Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and now she plans on taking her bespoke company global.

One of the unique aspects of her business is that she has maintained a good relationship with the suppliers she has in each country, and has kept her expenses to a minimum.

“The wedding planning-event planning industry is quite lucrative if you do it right. I am not the type that would have too much inventory because I want to feel like the inventory belongs to me; that would limit my creativity,” she says.

“I make sure that I don’t have a lot of expenses, I have coordinators that I have worked with for years and they have full-time jobs.”

Thamaga’s greatest challenge so far was whether or not to outsource other wedding planners when her business was increasing.

“It can be a bit daunting to realize that your business is growing,” she says.

But she opted to remain boutique.

“I had to decide that it is not about the money. I am building an empire where I want a legacy and an ongoing relationship with my clients.” 

She involves her clients every step of the way to bring their vision to an unforgettable reality, and believes that weddings are expensive because of the growing aspirations of the young.

“It is not just in South Africa, it is worldwide,” she says.

Despite the tangible costs of conducting these dream events, the wedding industry in South Africa is largely unregistered as it is a fluid market where services and costs are difficult to track and document accurately.

Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. Picture: Supplied

Africans, no doubt, spend millions per year on costs associated with marital ceremonies. This is the reality of the unregistered wedding industry. Despite the recession and slow economic growth, the wedding industry continues to attract many entrepreneurs to its lucrative opportunities.

As, people never stop getting married.

The Marriages and Divorces report released by Statistics South Africa last May shows an upward trend in civil marriages. Civil marriages increased by 0.6%, from 138,627 marriages registered in 2015 to 139,512 in 2016.

A wedding dress is an important part of a celebration and the bridal couture market continues to show growth.

Wise Guy Reports Database Global Wedding Dress Market Insights, forecast to 2025, states: “The wedding market demand grows continually, and the wedding garments market has notable increase every year. In this case, the competition is also very intense among companies. The involved companies should seize the opportunities to expand the gold mine.”

A previous client of Thamaga’s has spent R200,000 ($13,876) on two wedding dresses and this is nothing for Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. 

He moved to South Africa in 1992 at a time when African designs were not being celebrated globally. 

Twenty years ago, Eboka sold wedding dresses for R15,000 ($1,041) a piece, and now sells for R250,000 ($17,344) a piece, depending on the design. 

“A designer of my caliber in South Africa is undersold because there are people in the United States selling wedding gowns for $250 and I am here selling them for maybe $80, it just doesn’t make sense. It shows that our economy is really bad because a designer of my caliber should be operating on the same level as them, or very close,” Eboka says.

He is a luxury designer. 

“When you think of luxury, it is not just the product, it is not just the textile – it is the whole experience from when you drive in, to when you sit down and have the designer talk to you and learn about your life. The whole artistic process contributes to the cost value of the gown.”

He says that the reason wedding gowns are expensive is because they are meant to be timeless pieces.

“Traditionally, wedding gowns are classical couture. It is not like the normal evening dress that you wear to look beautiful on one night. A wedding dress is like training for the Olympics. You train for them for the rest of your life,” he says.

Eboka also says when designing a wedding gown, you need to take time to know the client, family and their fancies in order to meet the clients’ need.

The material of the wedding gown is usually expensive because he sources the textiles from across the world, and he takes two to three months to create a gown, depending on the embellishments.

Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. Picture: Supplied 

“My designs have a lot of artistry,” he says.

Eboka is a wealthy man but he still believes that the industry is not as lucrative as it could be.

“But we do well, without being arrogant about it… You have to be fully aware of the industry and have the intellectual capacity to understand the potential of the market,” he says.

Pictures are an important element of a wedding because they capture the moment for life.

International award-winning photographer Daniel West meets his clients in a restaurant so he can get to know them better and learn the history of their relationship.

“We, as photographers, need to click with each couple, it is actually vital because we are going to be in their space from the beginning to end.

“So, when we do not gel, we are going to find ourselves in an awkward situation on the day because we, as photographers, are also problem-solvers. We don’t just take pictures on the day,” West says.

His packages start from R18,000 ($1,248) to R60,000 ($4,163) and he says it is because the couple is paying for the quality of the work. His packages include waterproof genuine leather-bound photo albums that he says last a lifetime, as well as 500 images that are both edited and unedited. He also arranges the location for the photoshoots.

“It is more than about taking pictures on the day, anybody can take pictures but the work that I do has more of a boutique feel,” he says.

“You pay to have something like this on the table that will last you a lifetime,” West says.

He does not only take pictures on the day but the photoshoots can take up to three months.

“Each couple that I take pictures of has a different story and that is where I draw my inspiration.”

West says that it takes a while for the business to get to a point that is profitable because photographic equipment is expensive.

“In the beginning, it is unfortunately not lucrative because you have to look into getting the equipment that is up to standard, however, it took me about seven years where I could get to a point that I could make a business out of it,” West says.

International award-winning photographer Daniel West with his clients. Picture: Supplied

His annual turnover before expenses is R800,000 ($55,502) and he has about 25 clients a year.

He believes that the industry is regarded as valuable in South Africa and it is growing because people are becoming more enlightened about the photography industry. And social media has become an important motivator driving this industry.

“It is vital to have a good photographer for your wedding, because you as a bride are not quite educated of what is out there and what is not [in terms of photography].”

A good photographer needs to have foresight.

“The quality and charisma of your photographer is really one of the most important things you pay for because if something were to go wrong on your wedding, like rain, what does your photographer do? Do they stand back or make a plan?” he says.

Other luxe services associated with weddings include limos and chauffeur services, and florists, live music bands and gourmet caterers flown from around the world. The more money you are willing to throw, the more sparkling the champagne, crystal and caviar on the beach

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Why Science Matters So Much In The Era Of Fake News And Fallacies

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Democracy and social progress die without science and fact-based knowledge. Science and facts are the foundational basis for rational and logical disputation and the possibility of reaching some truths.

Fake news, on the other hand, is a calculated assault on democratic freedoms.

The power of the notion of fake news and of its practitioners is demonstrated by how we have all quickly come to accept that there is a category of news called fake news. By doing so, we are running the real risk of being complicit in its legitimisation. My point is: if it’s fake then it’s not news. There is news, and then there is fake stuff, dodgy facts, distortions and lies.

So what’s the connection between science, knowledge and facts?

What makes good science

Science is one important means of producing knowledge and getting to what approximates the truth. Good science results from rigorous processes. Part of the rigour in science and knowledge creation is the peer review process, which is a means of ensuring not only the correctness of facts, but also transparency.

Science must generally also meet the test of replicability. These days data used in scientific experiments often also has to be preserved so it can be assessed or analysed if results are disputed. Ethical norms also govern scientific experiments to prevent harm.

Science is not the absolute truth. Scientific findings are the beginning, not the end, of the quest for truth. Empirical data used in science that can be verified forms a sound basis for robust discussion, debate and decision-making. Science brings a degree of rationality that creates a higher probability that the best interest of society or the public interest will be taken into account in, for example, decision-making.

Science, then, is the habit of exercising the mind to help think through especially difficult and complex phenomena.

This makes science important in the exercise of democracy. This isn’t possible without facts and information that enable – or aid – voters to make an informed choice in elections, for example, or help the making of sound policies that best promote the public interest. Science also enables discerning members of the public to make sense of their worlds and the world.

So-called fake news

Fake news, on other hand, is a set of at worst, manufactured or concocted facts that are a perversion of reality. It is the direct antithesis of science.

But fake news isn’t new. It’s as old as news itself and has a variety of aims, including propaganda and spin doctoring. It can be argued that the growth of spin doctoring in the 1990s is the precursor to the exponential growth of fakery. It has also been enabled by the decline of content that enriches public discourse in the context of commercialisation and concentration of media since the 1980s.

These developments led to a decline in the influence of public interest media or media that strikes the balance between commercial enterprise and the public good. And this has led to the reduction in the kind of news and media content that focuses on science.

Science journalism and investigative journalism, in particular, have seriously declined. This has meant that the ability to shine a light on the dark areas of lack of knowledge, superstition, and myths has seriously been diminished.

Specialist reporting is now confined to the content-rich ghettos of those who are highly educated or interested.

Another reason for the growth of fake news and its increasing influence is the loss of confidence in public institutions, including media institutions and the profession of journalism. Fakery has risen to fill the vacuum, driven by individuals and political organisations who position themselves as messiahs with instant solutions to multiple social crises. In their discourse knowledge institutions, science, facts, evidence, experts and reason or rationality are thrown out of the window as the sophistry of the elite.

The role of social media

Digital technologies and social media have made it much easier to produce and disseminate fake news. It is a paradox: unprecedented scientific advances and technologies are enabling us to transcend traditional constraints of distribution and literally place information at people’s fingertips. Yet these same technologies seem to facilitate more fake news and information that doesn’t necessarily advance the public good.

In addition, social media largely exists outside the professional norms of fact checking and the use of evidence to support assertions, arguments and positions taken in relation to social phenomena.

Fact checking and peer review are more important than ever because of the reality that false information now flows freely. This can be extremely harmful, particularly in public health campaigns.

The attraction of fake news is its apparent simplicity. It has a ring of truth around its claims, even when these are outlandish, and its ability to seem to resonate with what people think are their life-worlds or everyday life. Its ability to reinforce stereotypes, including prejudices, makes a bad situation even worse.

Science, facts and knowledge will save humanity

Science journalism and investigative journalism which seek to pursue the truth rather than just the reporting of events, are critically important in this age of fake news and fallacies.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the sustainability of the idea of humanity and the environment in the broadest sense of the word depends on science – or the respect for facts, evidence and experts.

Science that allows the public to have a nuanced understanding of life is important to building inclusive, open societies that enable public participation in decision making and progressive social agendas. Science disseminated in ways that are understood by the public and resonate with their life-worlds is important for building trust in reformed institutions and creating new forms of social cohesion in diverse societies.

Tawana Kupe; Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University, University of Pretoria

The Conversation

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Entrepreneurship Funds In Africa: Distinguishing The Good From The Bad

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Entrepreneurs have a pivotal role to play in Africa’s unemployment crisis. Today over a third of the continent’s young workforce (those aged 15-35) are unemployed. Another third are in vulnerable employment. By 2035, Africa will contribute more people to the workforce each year than the rest of the world combined. By 2050 it will be home to 1.25 billion people working aged.

To absorb these new entrants, Africa needs to create over 18 million new jobs each year. Governments need to put in place policies that drive economic growth and competitiveness. These in turn, will enable the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is important because they currently play a significant role in low-income countries, representing nearly 80% of jobs. They are also responsible for 90% of new ones created each year.

The challenge for countries is how to support the growth of SMEs. Various African governments have experimented with ways to help address the US$140 billion funding gap for startups and SMEs. For example, one approach has been to set up entrepreneurship funds.

Based on my experience of watching their performance over the past 18 years, I would issue some words of caution. Some entrepreneurship support models work better than others. And how they are set up – particularly the governance structures put in place to manage them – is key to their success, or failure.

Funding gap

Access to financing is consistently listed as the biggest obstacle to business for SME’s in African countries. They often face double digit interest rates from local banks. And venture capital penetration is still extremely low. Top end 2018 estimates put it at about $725 million for the whole continent.

To tackle the problem, African countries continue to start new entrepreneurship funds. In July 2017 Ghana launched the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan. The aim is to provide integrated national support for start-ups and small businesses.

Almost a year later, Rwanda secured a $30 million loan from the African Development Bank for the establishment of the Rwandan Innovation Fund. This will focus on investments in tech-enabled SMEs.

As new funds are started, African countries must look to the successes and failures of both global and regional funds to replicate best practices and avoid common pitfalls. African governments should explore replicating models similar to Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and the USAID backed enterprise funds. Both include robust investment selection criteria for funds.

In doing so, African government-backed entrepreneurship funds would operate as fund-of-funds – where a fund invests in another private equity or venture fund rather than directly in businesses themselves – as do many development finance institutions globally such as the UK’s CDC or FMO of the Netherlands.

The what and the how

The fund of funds structure creates an arm’s length relationship between the government agency that houses the entrepreneurship fund and the businesses that eventually receive investment. In between, sits a professional fund manager that earns the majority of its income from making good investments, growing companies and exiting them after a period of five to seven years. In this way, there are natural disincentives for corruption and market-based selection criteria for the entrepreneurs who receive investment.

How the fund managers are selected also matters. To ensure true investment independence from the government, fund managers and board members must be chosen in a transparent and competitive process. And once selected, representatives of the government entrepreneurship fund agency can sit on the investment committee for oversight purposes but should respect the fund managers’ independent decision-making.

There are examples of funds being set up without the necessary independent, accountable fund managers. One is the YouWin program in Nigeria. Created in 2016, it was set up to help youth entrepreneurs grow businesses. But senior civil servants handed out awards to friends and relatives.

Government supported fund managers through the FoF model can also catalyse additional investment. By operating in markets and sectors often ignored by traditional private equity funds, Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and enterprise funds have mobilized additional capital for investment-starved companies. African government-backed entrepreneurship funds could do the same by participating in blended finance deals with development finance institutions, social-impact investment funds, local banks and other market players to back growing firms.

Measuring success

While not actively managing the funds’ portfolio investments, governments have a key role to play in guiding the funds priorities. Priorities may vary by country and given Africa’s growing rates of unemployment, funds should prioritise job creation by evaluating investment on key performance indicators. These would include the number of jobs created per dollar invested, indirect jobs created per dollar invested, and average salary of job. In addition to job creation, governments can direct funds to focus on specific sectors either in need of increased capital or high-growth areas in local economies.

Beyond establishing investment criteria, government-backed funds should prioritise rigorous measurement of investment results and long-term data tracking to inform future investment decisions. The UK British Bank regional growth fund found the cost per job created varied considerably by project from £4,000 to over £200,000. It concluded that a better allocation of funds could have led to thousands more jobs created for the same resources.

Data driven investments can not only lead to a better results, but further curtail issues around potential mismanagement of funds.

Tackling Africa’s job creation challenge requires innovative thinking and initiatives that support private sector-led growth. Looking to the model of Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and enterprise funds, African governments can spur local ecosystems and drive new private capital to regions today seen as unfriendly or too risky to outside investors.

Properly structured investments today could yield much larger dividends tomorrow.

-Aubrey Hruby; Senior Fellow, Africa Center, Georgetown University

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