Elizabeth Gould shares her thoughts on last week’s Facebook Africa launch, and what it means for future prosperity in Africa. Elizabeth is a member of the ALN Class of 2015. With a background in media and tech, she’s currently focused on growing the next generation of African coders through the Cape Town-based startup codeX.
Facebook is open for business in Africa. Last week’s launch party of its first sales office on the continent was another milestone in the rise of Africa’s digital economy.
It’s no surprise: Facebook’s growth here is unstoppable. Africans’ thirst for connection makes Facebook their first port of call as they go online. Facebook’s VP of EMEA, Nicola Mendelsohn, cited numbers Silicon Valley (and Wall Street) can’t ignore: 120 million of Africa’s billion people are on Facebook so far, up 20% in just the last 6 months. In South Africa, 90% of that user growth is on mobile–the platform Facebook has put laser focus on in the last few years.
“We have so much in common, Africa is all about mobile and so are we!” exclaimed Mendelsohn.
While the launch video highlighted how entrepreneurs and small business owners use Facebook and Instagram for sales and Whatsapp for customer communications, Facebook’s choice of Johannesburg for its first stake in the ground signals its sights are set on big brands for its advertising growth. Agencies and marketing heads of corporates like Vodacom, Coca-Cola and Virgin Mobile were the bulk of the audience at the invite-only event.
But Facebook has a golden opportunity to do much more to grow its footprint on the continent.
Yes, the Facebook-led initiative internet.org, which aims to bring free internet (curated by Facebook) to the majority world, has been making moves across Africa in recent months. But access to information, while absolutely necessary, isn’t enough.
Facebook should take a leading role in training Africa’s bright young minds to build their own digital futures.
At my startup codeX, we believe that Africa’s youth are the world’s most untapped resource. By 2030, Africa will have the world’s largest working age population. By 2100, 40% of the world will be African. That’s why it is crucial to train them now as digital thinkers. With code, they can use technology to solve the problems they see all around them. With code, they can get jobs, build apps, and create companies that employ others. With code, Africa’s challenges of healthcare, education, energy, finance, retail, and transportation become opportunities to create value for hundreds of millions of people.
Africa’s youth love Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Our coders clamored to get to internet.org‘s launch at our friends the Barn Khayelitsha (in Cape Town’s largest township) in early July. Most don’t know what internet.org is, but all they needed to see was the word “Facebook” on the invite to want to spend their Saturday there. Who better to learn from than the builders of the platform they spend every free moment using?
So send us your designers and developers, product owners and executives on short sabbaticals to mentor our continent’s youth. Build internship programs that welcome these talented and energetic brains to the Valley to learn from the best. Fund training in software and hardware development, user experience design, data science, and entrepreneurship on the continent. Support Africa’s tech hubs, accelerators, and coding bootcamps. Help Africans invest in local startups. Arm African girls with digital skills. Get coding into every national curriculum, from primary school on up, and make sure every school has reliable internet access and trained teachers.
Google, Microsoft, Intel, IBM and others are already doing a lot, but Facebook’s arrival on the continent ups the ante for all tech companies looking for growth globally.
So I call on all of you: future-proof the world’s labor force. Invest in training Africa’s youth, at scale, today. The world will have a brighter tomorrow if you do.