August 2011 - Maverick Mind

Technology should be used for social transformation

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I have always been of the opinion that nothing should be invented just for the sake of its novelty value, except art. In the case of technology I have always been of the assertion that you should be able to monetise whatever technology or platform you invent. It just makes business sense considering how much you can potentially spend on research and development.

I work in the online space, and I love it. As cliché as this may sound it’s true. I may not love it every single day, but I love it enough. That’s because the Internet has the potential to literally determine how competitive a country can be in the global arena, based on how well it embraces the possibilities that it presents.

Of particular interest to me is how start ups and other technology focused companies can make a contribution not only to economic growth, but to socially transform the communities around them.
But before we can truly see our communities transform, our government needs to take the tech industry seriously.

In South Africa we have really high internet costs, and it’s no secret that Telkom’s reluctance to unbundle the local loop is driven by the parastatal’s desire to maximise profits. Because of this reality, the average South African has limited access to the Internet; this then implies that the ability to share information is limited. This has an adverse effect on South Africa’s competitiveness in the global knowledge economy.

A lot has been said about the need to foster a culture of entrepreneurship is this country and the desperate need to create meaningful jobs. This, I am sorry to say, will always be a pie in the sky if the powers that be do not recognise the importance of information sharing , of which the internet is a catalyst. We simply need cheaper internet access if we are to drag the rest of the popuation kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

There are already a few companies that are using their technology to affect social change in South Africa. pMailer is one of those companies. The Rosebank based email communications solutions provider is currently running an Education Project where they give a free pMailer account to schools across South Africa. Each school gets 6000 free email credits per month to communicate with their alumni, parents and other stake holders. Schools get to send out regular communications, completely free of charge.

Broadband prices have started to drop, driven primarily by competition amongst the local mobile operators, but in my opinion these remain relatively out of reach for the vast majority of the population. The day we see these prices drop to affordable rates, is the day we can see technology make a real difference in the communities that surround us, urban and rural.