|Building a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators
|Dr. Nasser Marafih
Nasser Marafih has been the Chief Executive Officer of Ooredoo since 2006. Dr. Marafih also served as Qtel Qatar CEO from 2002 until 2011.
Dr. Marafih holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, a Master of Science and a Ph.D in Communication Engineering, all from George Washington University, USA.
Technical advances alone will not boost productivity and economic development. But with the right policies, technology and telecoms can help build a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators Women, rural communities, entrepreneurs and youth are just some of the many societal groups that can benefit from digital infrastructure and mobile technology.
Many of the emerging markets across the world, in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa, are at pivotal stages in their evolution and developments in technology, digital communications and telecommunications infrastructure is fundamental to their future prosperity.
However, technical advances alone will not boost productivity and economic development – just as critical, particularly in rapidly advancing countries such as Indonesia and Algeria –will be the degree to which individuals take advantage of the new services and opportunities available to them. Companies and governments that are investing in technology infrastructure for cloud computing, super-fast broadband and 4G have a responsibility to ensure that these communities capitalize on the increased connectivity that these new technologies can deliver.
Youth will play a critical role in the development and deployment of new technologies; they could be said to be the perfect ambassadors for how digital and mobile advancements can inspire ambition and innovative thinking. Young people are not hindered by the status quo and are more likely to challenge ideas about what they should, and could, make of their lives.
Mobile technology can help to enable people, particularly youth in emerging markets, to realize their potential and can thus enrich their lives. At the very basic level, access to mobile connectivity can help young people be more in touch with job opportunities that aren’t necessarily right on their doorstep. Unemployment in countries across the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia is a significant problem, largely down to the fact that there are so many barriers to finding job opportunities and acquiring the right qualifications. Mobile phones can help now as a tool for education and training, allowing people to gain the qualifications they need to begin or take the next step in their career or business venture.
To play out an example, in Tunisia the ‘Najja7ni Employment’ mobile service supports youth employability and financial awareness. It offers job matching, a mobile market place and links with local training opportunities, and has already accumulated more than 300,000 subscribers in its first few months.
On a more ambitious scale, mobile technology can help aspiring entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses. There are two ways in which this can happen.
Firstly, as more businesses in this technology-driven age move away from being physical entities and more towards a ‘virtual presence’, people are being encouraged to think differently about how they can set-up a business. Where decades ago entrepreneurs would start a business by investing in a property unit to house their shop or office, now they are just as likely to think about making their fortune through a dot com business. Telecoms company Tunisiana has recognised this trend and, through its ‘Start-Up Factory’ initiative, is offering an early stage investment fund and professional support to ICT entrepreneurs. Mobile technology can have an aspirational influence over the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, helping them understand the possibilities of what can be achieved through a mobile handset when innovative thinking is applied.
Secondly, mobile technology can help those looking to start a business by providing services and connectivity to people who might not normally have had them. By making Internet and digital services such as video conferencing and cloud storage more accessible, new business owners are able to connect with more potential customers and conduct their business more efficiently and cost-effectively. Essentially, technology can help build a whole generation of mobile entrepreneurs who are able to carry out a high-standard of business activity anywhere, anytime.
Underserved and rural communities
Digital technology can have a significant and immediate impact on those living in remote or rural areas that have historically been underserved by communications infrastructure. Understandably a first priority for any company providing mobile technology to remote areas is to help ensure they have adequate provision of health and social support networks through their digital services. For example, by investing in the construction of a base transceiver station in a remote village, a telecoms provider can ensure that residents are able to contact doctors that might have previously been out of reach.
For rural communities in emerging markets such as Indonesia that have strong business ambitions, digital infrastructure can enable them to turn these ambitions into reality.
For example, Indosat, in Indonesia, has been supporting efforts to boost the bottom line of farmers in West Sumatra by providing ICT programs to revitalize the agriculture industry. Through the use of ICT, farmers can easily obtain the latest agricultural information that will allow them to make the best decisions for their business; check market prices, order supplies by phone, and thus enhance their economic productivity.
This kind of development in rural and underserved communities also allows these individuals to think differently about what they can achieve, and inspire innovation and creativity in the way they approach business.
Perhaps one of most exciting elements of mobile technology is it its ability to inspire people to connect and share, particularly groups that have not always had appropriate access to communications channels. In many countries, mobile connectivity has allowed women in particular to connect with each other and with business communities, which has in turn helped inspire a whole new generation of female entrepreneurs. One such country is Indonesia, where there is typically low employment of women. Now in Indonesia there are initiatives in place, such as Indosat’s Usaha Wanita (Business Women) programme, for women to receive free business advice through their mobile phones. Whether they already have a small enterprise, or are just starting out, women in many emerging markets are being actively encouraged to innovate and contribute to their national economies.
Women, rural communities, entrepreneurs and youth are just some of the many societal groups that can benefit from digital infrastructure and mobile technology. In many of the countries and regions discussed, we have not even scratched the surface of what can be achieved by the rapid technology and digital developments taking place. It is the responsibility of the companies fast-tracking these developments to ensure that individuals reap the full benefits and become the innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders of today and tomorrow.