We asked three renowned futurists for their predictions of what will shape Africa – and the world – in the next decade. Brace yourself for what’s coming.
THE 10 SEISMIC SHIFTS
Renowned New York-based futurist Faith Popcorn, who famously coined the word “cocooning” in 1981 and got most of her predictions right, explores the decade ahead with her 10 “seismic shifts”. “Unthinkable. Apocalyptic. End of days,” says Popcorn. “Those are some of the ways this moment in history is being described. As a futurist, I’m here to tell you that life goes on, with our current challenges quickening our cultural evolution.” In her own words, here’s what she thinks is unfolding over the next decade. “That’s your checklist for understanding our fast-evolving future. The accelerating rate of change may seem scary, but it means there’s never been more opportunity to reinvent tomorrow. Let’s get going,” she says.
1. The Metaverse mandate: Living in the metaverse, a parallel digital universe, is our next frontier. It’s being built by people like artist Krista Kim, whose NFT (non- fungible token) Mars House – a file showing a stunning intergalactic abode — sold for over $500,000. Nightlife will get ‘versed, too. The pandemic may have closed Cape Town’s Raptor Room, but how about tuning into its live music in the ether? Brands are already colonizing this space, with Gucci offering meta-handbags and sunglasses in Roblox, the online gaming platform.
2. The humanoid revolution: We’re merging with technology, and next-gen human/microchip hybrids are coming. Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a brain-internet interface, is already being tested in monkeys; a rival company, Synchron, is green-lighted for human trials. And Musk is also creating Tesla Bot, a humanoid robot that will do our dirty work. Every business should get ready for this revolution.
3. Diversity driven: We’re embracing and elevating the complexities of each person’s unique identity. Mass is over; inclusivity is the new need. Look at Geenie World, the beauty marketplace that uplifts brands that identify as BIPOC- and LGBTQIA+-owned. Sharing stories of how you are supporting the previously marginalized is every business’ mandate.
4. Dark revelry: “The world’s a mess – let’s party” is a rising vibe. The need is to escape it all, which is why alcohol and drug use is reportedly soaring, as are videogames that let you “be bad” virtually. Brands and entrepreneurs that allow people cut loose without getting arrested will soar.
5. Mainstream mysticism: Self-knowledge and soul navigation help us manage the intensity and uncertainty of life. Daily LSD microdosing is already here. Next: Drop-in centers and resorts that guide you through hallucinogenic trips will be the new yoga. Is your business ready to support this consumer?
6. ProgramMe: The desire for personalization is surging – “Know me, optimize me!” is the consumer mantra. What’s ahead: Wearables, swallowables, apps like CompanionMx that eavesdrop on our conversations, and chatbots like Ellie that comfort us. AI will soon be managing our every mood moment.
7. Planet in peril: The United Nations says it’s “code red for humanity”. The drumbeat of climate change is quickening, as is that of eco innovation with Gen Z leading the charge. Every brand must be transparent and proactive about how it’s helping either to preserve the environment… or colonize outer space.
8. Gender blenders: “Male or female” is no longer the question. Now, gender is fluid, not fixed. Zanele Muholi, a South African visual activist and photographer, has been documenting those who are transgender and intersex. Designers like Timeekah Murphy are creating fashion that reflects our non-binary moment. Stop thinking of your consumers as “he” or “she” – we’re in the era of “they.”
9. The Big Boom: While many marketers are GenZennial- focused, the Boomers have the money, they are going fully digital, and they spent 49% more online in 2020 than they did in 2019. Science is keeping us working, playing and reproducing at later and later ages. Who’s ready to recognize this incredibly vibrant generation and serve their emerging needs? If you say, “I am,” you win.
10. The New NeighborGood: With times this tough, every business needs to show its purpose and activate for social good, but not in a bandwagon-jumping way. Ask, how can I respond quickly and authentically to the news? Look at Airbnb opening its doors for free to Afghan refugees – this is a new model of using what you have and operating straight from the heart.
‘EXPECT TO SEE AFRICA DEFINE THE FUTURE’
JackUldrich, a global futurist, whose latest book is ‘Business as Unusual: A Futurist’s Unorthodox, Unconventional Guide to Unlearning Business’, says the following 10 trends
are poised to transform the next decade:
1. 5G: Almost silently, a handful of aerospace companies have announced plans to deploy tens of thousands of satellites within the next few years. The implication is that soon, every African nation will have high-speed internet access. The satellites will provide the foundation for countless innovations in online education, telemedicine, digital cryptocurrencies, precision agriculture, and remote working.
2. Artificial Intelligence (AI): Providing additional fuel to the aforementioned fields will be the almost exponential-like acceleration of machine learning. Among AI’s most exciting applications will be its ability to rapidly, accurately, and affordably translate most of Africa’s 2,000-plus languages. This advance will, in turn, facilitate the growth of intra-African regional trade.
3. Online education: By 2030, over half of all Africans will be under the age of 18. This will create a series of challenges, but one positive side-effect is that Africa will experience an explosion of innovations in online education. Expect African innovators to leverage mobile communication devices, 5G, and AI to deliver personalized education in an affordable, convenient and effective manner.
4. Urban agriculture: Africa is already home to six of the world’s top 40 ‘megacities’ (cities with over 10 million people) and by 2030, over 50% of the continent will live
in urban areas. If the continent is to be fed in a sustainable and economical manner, urban agriculture must be a part of the solution. Vertical agriculture has already demonstrated an ability to grow some crops using 99% less land and 90% less water and African entrepreneurs can be expected to create innovative solutions that are unique to Africa’s many cultures and tastes.
5. Digital cryptocurrencies/fintech: Africa is home to the
world’s largest population of ‘unbanked’ citizens. There are serious systemic problems exacerbating this issue, including extreme poverty and political instability, but the combination of smartphones and Blockchain technology will usher in a golden age of financial innovation as entrepreneurs leverage the technologies to create more trust and transparency in both currencies and digital financial transactions.
6. Solar energy: Morocco is now home to Africa’s largest solar project (the 510 MW Noor project) and eight of the nine next largest projects on the continent are in South Africa. Continued advances in material science and battery storage technology will provide Africa access to cleaner and more affordable renewable energy on a massive scale in the coming decade.
7. 3D printing: Often overlooked in the rapid development of 3D printing technology — which, among other things, will facilitate decentralized manufacturing opportunities for everything from medical devices to automobile parts — is its ability to print large components, including houses. In Mexico, 3D printers have already created a community of affordable houses in an economically depressed rural region of the country. The same technology will soon find a home in regions across Africa.
8. Regenerative agriculture: In addition to the growth of urban agriculture, advances in regenerative agriculture — defined as farming that protects the soil, enhances biodiversity, and better stores carbon — will become more prominent as African farmers and agribusiness come to understand its ability to increase the yield of crops while simultaneously combating climate change by storing massive amounts of carbon in the soil.
9. mRNA vaccines: Telemedicine, drones, automation, and continued advances in genomics and gene editing will revolutionize healthcare in Africa in profound ways but expect two of Africa’s leading causes of death — malaria and HIV — to be dramatically reduced in the near future by advances in mRNA vaccines.
10. The Innovation of Innovation: The final and most exciting innovation Africa will experience is the innovation of innovation itself. As a historical analogy, consider Gutenberg’s famous printing press. The invention, undoubtedly, transformed the world but the remarkable thing is that the printing press was really a combination of four existing technologies — the wine press, movable type, ink, and paper. In this same way, the innovative platforms and technologies of the near future will not be a single creation. Rather, they will be a convergence of existing technologies, including 5G, artificial intelligence, Blockchain, smartphones, renewable energy, the Internet of Things, and 3D printing. The number of possible permutations almost boggle the mind but in the hands of innovative entrepreneurs who are faced with real world problems and real-world constraints, expect to see Africa define the future.
THE POWER OF 10
Jackie Nagtegaal, a lawyer and futurist based in South Africa, says: “People tend to think futurists are there to predict the future, like modern-day clairvoyants taking to conference stages with theatrical presentation-peddling predictions. The purpose of engaging with the future is not to predict, but to explore everything that could be possible. Considering the possibilities that are both good and bad, we decide which futures we want to live in. By choosing our own future vision, we design paths to make it real. Through this process, we create a world we choose to live in.” The next decade for Africa holds many possibilities, she adds.
Here are her 10 ideas that will shape Africa.
1. Afro-optimism: This most critical ingredient to any future is the role of hope. This is particularly important for a continent marred by colonialism and conflict. The spirit of Africa needs to rediscover its abilities to believe and overcome. Without optimism, none of the industries or other ideas will bloom.
2. The youth bulge: Africa has the fastest-growing population and will account for half the world’s population growth in the next two decades. By 2035, Africa will have more people than India or China. In this lies a tremendous challenge, but also a phenomenal asset. With a young population, the continent has to act fast to leverage this asset, before it becomes its greatest burden.
3. Regenerative development: As Africa is in the process of developing, it needs to develop in a post-sustainable way allowing for a regenerative approach to climate, economy, and culture. By learning from the mistakes and wins of Western economies and Asian development strategies, Africa has the opportunity to design an enhanced approach to development.
4. The Metaverse migration: Laying the digital foundation to serve all these industries and close to two billion people, the development in infrastructure and skill in the digital world
is critical. By harnessing the power of the fourth industrial revolution, all of its development concerns can be addressed which would spearhead digital service delivery. Africa needs to move fast, in a sense it has to migrate to the metaverse.
5. Rule of law: Africa is currently plagued by conflict, and many countries face crippling degrees of corruption and despondency. The idea of the rule of law has to be enhanced through better leadership and legal agency for Africans, and enhanced delivery by the justice system.
6. Africa is one: Intra-African trade is key to developing as a continent and sustaining itself. At very low intra-trade levels, compared to Asia and Europe, Africa stands to gain by supporting itself. The African Continental Free Trade Area agreement sets the foundation for a decade of increased activity.
7. An end to hunger: Nearly 20% of Africans experience hunger, sliding food production onto the top of the priority list. With innovations in farming, firm focus is needed to get the arable lands of Africa into smart producing resources to support its people, while continuing and enhancing its export to the world.
8. The brains of tomorrow: This might be the single most important aspect of the future. With that bulging youth bubble, how we educate and skill young Africans will unlock the future. Education not only builds skills but instills pride, agency, and optimism in the next generation.
9. Living spaces: Innovation in housing must cater to inadequate living conditions and an increase in demand. The housing crisis needs new ideas to solve it in sustainable way.
10. The wellbeing of all: With a life expectancy of nearly 10 years lower than global averages, looking after the health of Africans to enhance the most fundamental human right needs critical attention. The pressure on various inadequate health systems on the continent is set to increase; innovations are needed to make health care accessible to all.