How Mobile Phones Are Shaping the Next Wave of African Innovation | Sam Nana-Sinkam | TEDxNashville



hello everybody wow what an honor yeah I'm sure this situation looks really familiar to a lot of you out there whether you want to admit it or not you're addicted to your phone – it's completely rewired your daily routine and just try and picture what would happen if you lost your phone at lunch today right you're not alone though do a Google search on the topic you're gonna find dozens of stats and perspectives on how it's changing life things like we care more about our phones and our toothbrushes or we look at our phones more often on a daily basis than our loved ones I think about this stuff a lot in my day job basically I helped brand executives a lot of the retailers you probably shop with figure out exactly what they're gonna do now that we as consumers can't make a single decision without consulting our screens first having done more of these strategy sessions and I'd like to admit I've developed a really good understanding for why we fall in love with these devices so quickly they're integrated they're intuitive they're always around and they know us this isn't just a u.s. thing though it's happening everywhere from Latin America at asia-pacific globally we're benefiting from this innovation I have a special connection to sub-saharan Africa half of me is from country on the western coast called Cameroon and my family and I really canvassed the region when I was a kid due to my father's work for the United Nations but those of you who aren't familiar with the area let me just paint you a high-level picture so this is a space that's projected to be a billion strong in population by the end of the decade it's spread out over close to 50 countries so there's this beautiful variety of cultural perspectives languages etc one of the biggest problems that it has is it's an area that it's almost completely devoid of any of this seidel infrastructure that we here used to so for all of recent history there's been the severe lack of schools hospitals I would argue most importantly energy access only a quarter of these individuals are going to have working electricity this year but that is the baseline think of how low the usage is for computers landline phones or even televisions just to scale this for you a little bit more this is a region that has the same amount of power consumption as Spain while having 18 times the people I remember when I was a kid the effort my dad would put into this work fighting to let this region be at the very least self-sustaining still does for this day going into a 70s still working going from region to region running into roadblock after roadblock you have to imagine how demoralizing that can be around 1995 my family spent some time in Brazzaville which is a city in the republic of the congo was at a time when Bronzeville was at the epicenter of a political coup d'etat which is essentially just an effort to overthrow the government my father was consulting an election that happened right before then and it got so hostile that my family and I had to evacuate immediately one evening we through what essentials we couldn't do a bag move back to the United States to start over so I'd note advice for the parents out there never let an adolescent boy pack their own essentials bags me and my brother are throwing game boys action figures baked goods certainly not essentials let's say that but I remember a little bit later my mom taking a call after officials had gone back and surveyed the damage in our house and one of the most striking things she took away was that people had ripped the toilet seats in the sinks out the wall that's how dire the infrastructure challenges were 15 20 years ago needless to say it isn't the easiest place in the world to make civil progress one well respected editorial went as far as to label this region close to a billion people hopeless 2000 but I want to be really clear I'm not here to tell you this sad story I'm not asking for your charity at all I know our brains are wired to feel this sympathy but what I really want to talk to you about it's innovation because in the time since then that exact same editorial is now Corning this space as the hottest frontier in investing and awakening giant and hopeful 15 years it's an absolutely incredible comeback story the driving force behind this is that in that same timeframe sub-saharan Africa is now the fastest growing and second-largest mobile phone market in the world and it's creating an entirely new plane for citizens to build on top of mobile phone penetration has already lapped electricity access and by the end of the decade it's projected that over 500 million Africans will have a phone on them easily outpacing Europe and North America it's also important to note that the region now boasts the fastest-growing middle class in the world and has five of the top ten fastest-growing economies with a majority of this population still under 30 one bank called this movement unstoppable I really like the thought process that the president of Guinea Alpha Conde had at the most recent world economic summit this is a quote from one of his sessions the speed of change in innovation offers a prospect of confronting our biggest problems more quickly and efficiently than we would have ever done before there's all this innovation being bred out of necessity mobile phones has given an entire region that as you've seen has been on life support the ability to leapfrog the barriers that they face in the past and finally make some real progress it's hard for us to even visualize right I mean mobile phones have changed our lives mostly for the better but you could argue a lot of the innovation that we're seeing is cosmetic we have these new and immersive ways to socialize with our friends I can press a button and car to come pick me up at any time in any place in this country and we're right at the cusp of letting mobile phones be the remote control of our houses with connected appliances I'd ask you though how much of this do we need how much of this is going to shape the roots of are already established communities for them that basic necessity allows them to open the aperture for how they use this device and it's created an entirely clean slate for them to design their future on this is gonna change everything but I want to talk to you about three of the most impactful ways that I feel like they're applying this energy in the education healthcare and financial spaces so first and foremost education is a real problem in the region two and three children will not move past grade school this year eighty percent of females mainly because there's a severe lack of teachers these kids aren't stupid they're not incapable of learning but one estimate pointed to us needing 350,000 new educators to solve for the teaching gap it also doesn't help that the region struggles with the highest concentration of illiterate adults in the world that resource drought makes a classroom only based education system almost impossible to execute well but there's this new group of startups that's trailblazing in this space letting kids learn work read all from their phones in South Africa that Yoos a project set out to allow children to download all different types of reading material from lectures to novels directly to their phones it doesn't seem like a lot but for a kid who's maybe only seen a handful of books her entire life you could imagine how enlightening that is in the first 18 months I said oh they saw over a half a million completed reads stereo me a platform that encourages students and teachers to use messaging to collaborate on homework problems and see lesson plans they ran into funding issues last year but really paved the way for so many other startups to start building in this mobile learning space now the phones are the first and only for information this region is embracing them and they're finally starting to reach children at scale soon enough we're going to be able to teach the youth in subsidy net sub-saharan Africa more efficiently and more effectively than any classroom only based education model ever could the straights are a lot more dire in the healthcare space not only having 2 percent of the world's doctors the region struggles with 25 percent of the global disease burden that ratio makes a scaled approach absolutely essential we just don't have enough doctors even if a family is lucky and they do get health care the workers have to travel long distances work under terrible conditions all while getting no data to support their efforts my family has a foundation in rural Cameroon which one of the major health care pillars being what we call the Joan a medi-cal essentially twice a year will pool doctors together to head out to rural Cameroon and provide medical relief for everything from headaches to ultrasounds in the first couple years of running this over 25,000 cases have been treated can you imagine how good it must feel for these families to finally be able to tell somebody about their problems there's certainly a need but as I mentioned it happens by annually in the interim it's been almost impossible to keep any progress or momentum going not being able to push out information or obtain good quality data has been a major major problem I'm not saying we're gonna solve everything right away but mobile phones are creating this large-scale cost-efficient sensor network that rivals any data source we've ever had in the region in the past becoming essential in the fight against disease outbreaks take malaria parasite transferred by mosquitos burrows itself into your liver multiplies thousands and thousands of times and enters your bloodstream it's gonna kill 2,000 people today being a child that had malaria I can tell you this is no joke the primary solutions is to get more and more families to adopt the use of mosquito nets during critical outbreaks but with the LAT limited communication reek you can imagine how difficult that's been try and picture a hurricane bearing down on Nashville with no way to proactively warn anybody about it the nonprofit malaria no more actually pivoted towards mobile phones to spread this awareness during critical times and track adoption early results in Cameroon showed a double-digit percentage increase in usage amongst children researchers are using a similar type of data set to understand human travel patterns in Kenya that way they can identify these red flag parasite areas during outbreaks and develop optimal travel routes eventually to reduce contagion there's even proactive innovation that's happening in Nigeria this startup Nick's it developed a health mobile app that provides families with first aid topics nutritional information even possible illnesses with a symptom checker for all intensive purposes a virtual physician because we can't get a physical doctor there it's gonna be more advanced use cases coming out soon trust me but as the head of malaria no more recently said good information is how we're going to save lives for the first time we're able to obtain good quality data and communicate a scale with mobile phones that in itself is going to save millions in the next five years lastly I'd argue that there hasn't been a space more impacted than the financial sector try and picture a month of your life where you only use cash think of all the business models that just wouldn't be around anymore the limited groundwork for banking in the area has stifled sub-saharan Africa's economic growth it's funny how fast things change though because mobile phones and more specifically Mobile Money Services is giving all of these individuals a new chance at capitalism sub-saharan Africa now accounts for over half of all of the mobile money services in the world right now just to give you more context on this Kenya as an early adopter in this space the amount of funds that they see flowing through mobile payments is equal to about 50 percent of their GDP in North America were around 4 percent their startups all over the the space that are moving this innovation for it as well the one you may have heard of most is n paisa 60 minutes did a segment on them last year enabling individuals to pay bills deposit earnings transfer funds all from their phone they have close to 20 million active users right now in Nigeria a similar innovation sprung up in paga which in its first full year of operation saw close to 900 percent year-over-year growth what's maybe more exciting is all of these platforms are giving other startups the ability to build on top of them so we're seeing innovation in Kenya where families can buy credits to redeem it clean water pumps in the area from their phones or in South Africa where schools allow parents and students to pay their tuition through mobile payments for almost everybody over there this increased access is transforming their financial independence the ability to start a business open a savings account even take on affordable credit through your mobile phone is playing a huge role in the reduction of poverty and the sudden increase that we're seeing in their middle class so what am i up here actually telling you what to do so I know I said this wasn't gonna be a charity conversation but please humor me for 30 seconds I'm sure most of you don't just have one phone I'm sure you have another two or three sitting in your drawers at home some of my colleagues have copped having upwards of 14 spare phones what do you need 14 phones for all right based on what I just showed you outside of the basic necessities food shelter water equipping a child in sub-saharan Africa with a mobile phone is the most empowering thing that you can do for them there's plenty of organizations hope phones being one of them where you can donate your old phones to be refurbished and used in a developing nation global estimates put the sweet spot at affording a phone over there between 25 and 50 dollars we're just starting to get close to that right now but there's still millions and millions of Africans who can't afford these phones at the current price more importantly though this is something that we all need to be paying attention to some of the most transformational innovation in the world for mobile phones will be soon coming out of this nation as it has in the past in asia-pacific markets like India I'm fortunate enough to work at a company that's realizing this earlier this week in partnership with dignified Google just pledged to educate a million subs Heron African youth on digital skills ranging from a three-month intensive training session all the way down to an online learning platform mobile optimised obviously I always go back to that original statement from president Condit a necessity breeds innovation you could apply that to anything or anyone I see it in the same vein that we're now seeing all of these beautiful and interesting startups being born in dorm rooms parents basements garages because our communities do not need these applications it makes it almost impossible for us to comprehend but sub-saharan Africa they are that kid in their parents basement they're that kid thinking of new and innovative ways to technology because they have to so what I'm really asking is for you all to put your phones down for 10 minutes and look around because this this is a revolution we'll be talking about in 50 years how an entirely forgotten region of a billion people was able to bring itself back into this global conversation by using the only piece of technology that they had access to a device we were all carrying around in our pockets extremely humbled to be here thank you so much for your time you

4 Comments

  1. Wendy Minai said:

    nice presentation, I've watched the whole of it and I enjoyed it ….SAM NANA! KUDOS FROM KENYA!

    June 27, 2019
    Reply
  2. Jacob Nandi said:

    ''baked goods?'' xD

    June 27, 2019
    Reply
  3. Zach Weaver said:

    Well done Sammy!! Proud of you buddymn

    June 27, 2019
    Reply
  4. BenShootsBenScores said:

    first

    June 27, 2019
    Reply

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