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Small businesses to benefit most from digital revolution

7.7 per cent of Africa’s current labour force is unemployed, up from 5.7 per cent in 2013. [iStockphoto]

Africa’s working population is expected to reach 450 million by 2035, in line with the general population growth.

According to the 2017 Africa Competitiveness Report, if current economic growth trends continue, only 100 million jobs will be created by then. This means that millions of Africans, many of whom are already waiting to enter the labour force, will have few options for gainful employment.

Struggling to make ends meet often drives people to extremes, adding to discord and insecurity.

The World Bank estimates that 7.7 per cent of Africa’s current labour force is unemployed, up from 5.7 per cent in 2013.

The trend is likely to worsen as the number of job seekers outnumbers available opportunities.

According to a 2018 publication by International Trade Centre, Small and Medium-sized Businesses ( SMBs) have long bridged the employment gap in sub-Saharan Africa, employing about 80 per cent of the labour force.

Unfortunately, the onset of Covid-19 combined with strict containment measures, had a significant impact on small businesses, reducing productivity and sales and even forcing some to close.

Regardless of the negative impact on businesses, the pandemic accelerated reactive and opportunistic digital transformation as businesses coped with stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and forced closures.

While it began out of necessity, as the benefits of digitisation became clear, many businesses embarked on a broader digital transformation journey.

With decreased in-store customer footfall and reduced spending, SMBs experimented with new technologies to re-establish and improve customer interaction.

The use of social media for customer acquisition and support, sales, and business productivity tasks became commonplace as emerging Web 3.0 technologies, such as Augmented Reality for applications like remote machine maintenance, also gained usage.

SMBs realised that as they streamlined their operations to include digital aspects, they were increasing the amount of data they had, not only about their customers but also on their business operations, allowing them to further optimise their processes.

None of this would have been possible if the environment for SMBs had not also adapted.