From soft power to Black start-ups, 2021 is poised to strengthen the digital revolution
The year we leave behind has been marred by the dire consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic and so it comes with no surprise that we start 2021 with great hopes and expectations of newfound global health and economic recovery. But the events of the last few months showed once again how difficult forecasts can be in times of uncertainties such as those we are living in and experts warn we are entering a particularly unpredictable time.
One of the most remarkable changes accelerated by the pandemic is the adoption of many new technologies: “from video-conferencing and online shopping to remote working and distance learning. In 2021 the extent to which these changes will stick, or snap back, will become clearer”, The Economist observed in its November 16th issue (https://www.economist.com/the-world-ahead/2020/11/16/ten-trends-to-watch-in-the-coming-year).
The scale at which the tech sector has advanced not only in the global economic arena, in business, trade and communications but also in our daily lives, was the focus of the recent computer and technology Gitex exhibition held in Dubai.
On a more political level, it starts with China, where the pandemic is believed to have originated. The authorities here have moved decisively to boost the domestic semiconductor industry to reduce the country’s dependency on other countries for the development of its technology sector.
Restofworld.org, a news website looking at global tech changes, picked a few main trends to look at (https://restofworld.org/2020/14-tech-trends-to-watch-in-2021/).
China will continue to lead the trend in so called “deep tech”, the innovations providing the foundation for the future generation of technology. Europe and the US are still ahead in this field, but the gap is narrowing.
The 5G technology is poised to be at the top of the most important trends to focus on. It is expected to bring data speed up to a hundred times faster than the 4G, but it remains to be seen who will control it.
In the meantime, Africa has seen a very interesting acceleration of deals in the fintech sector, according to experts and entrepreneurs. The genesis of Africa’s fintech revolution was mobile money.
“The spread of mobile money products beyond peer to peer transfers (P2P) has been growing significantly in the last two to four years - wrote the Africa Report in April last year (https://www.theafricareport.com/26934/coronavirus-is-triggering-deep-digital-change-in-african-fintech/). Cellulant, Flutterwave and Interswitch, among other players, are going up the Fintech value chain to build payment solutions adapted to the region. By extending payment platforms beyond mobile money, fintech in Africa is now moving to the next phase of the mobile money revolution; seamless integrations between the existing mobile money operator owned mobile wallet services for a unified digital payment solution into very specific sectors and pervading geographical borders.”
In Latin America, it is worth noticing that Salvador the Bahia, in Brazil, is poised to become a global tech hub for Black start-ups and Black-tech innovation. The Black Silicon Valley, as it is now called, largely centers around an area ecosystem hub, Vale do Dendê.
“Vale do Dendê coordinates with native startups, buyers and government businesses to help entrepreneurship and innovation and runs startup acceleration packages specifically focusing on supporting Afro-Brazilian founders. The Vale do Dendê Accelerator organization has already been within the highlight at worldwide and nationwide publications because of its revolutionary work in bringing startup and tech schooling from mainstream to historically underserved communities.” https://www.feedercloud.com/brazils-black-silicon-valley-could-be-an-epicenter-of-innovation-in-latin-america
Until the recent past, geopolitical competition has always focused on physical infrastructures: roads, railways, ports and airports. Now, that soft power is increasingly becoming digital.
“Providing the technological backbone for Asian and African countries’ digital economies will give national champion companies access to huge new markets and would-be hegemons influence over strategically important regions.”
The pandemic has also strengthened the e-commerce sector, with a whole class of consumers adopting on-line shopping even after a relative return to normality.
And what about education? Ed-tech is here to stay, experts claim. “Edtech companies reading the room saw the pandemic as the perfect opportunity to scale. The market was already valued at $5.9 trillion, and in countries like India and China, the cultural reverence for after-school programming had created a demand for at-home learning even before the pandemic. The Covid-19 lockdowns accelerated the trend in both. In Western markets such as the U.S., where edtech’s growth had been stable but relatively flat, adoption has been directly proportional to stay-at-home orders.”