The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is a term that comes up inevitably during discussions about job losses; for instance, “Can you imagine what the unemployment rate will be when 4IR really takes hold?” We use 4IR terms like automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) to explain trends about how the nature of the economy is changing. It is sad how we never explain the 4IR in a way a people at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) can understand, let alone know how they are impacted. We hardly think of the BoP as forging potential innovators of products and services. And, little is being done to make the 4IR relatable to the people in the township and rural areas.

How do we explain the 4IR to the young people whose aspirations are to go to school, get a well-paying job that offers a big glass corner office as an executive? How do we explain the 4IR to people in remote rural areas, where home-based work is how families make ends meet? The lady that cooks amagwinya (vetkoek) for the income to take her child to school does not know she can be part of an online community and start trading with other community members. She does not know of apps such as KHULA from South Africa which assists farmers to have access to big suppliers.

Yet, there is much potential in the townships and rural areas across Africa. For instance, in Kenya, Tala uses non-traditional data to introduce 3 billion consumers to the global market. People apply for a loan and receive an instant decision, based on the behavioural framework of gauging one’s ability to repay back loans. This allows small businesses to have access to funds. It allows individuals to make ends meet and become owners of their destinies, through fast, personalized loans to build a digital credit history.

According to Ernst & Young, analysing the most-used FinTech services – money transfer and payments account for 50{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1} and borrowing accounts for 10{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1}. That is borrowing using peer-to-peer platforms and using online short-term loan providers. These are the pillars that small businesses need to have in place for them to grow.  Fintech mobile services are commonplace in the township economy, where there is an almost daily loss of electricity for specific periods.

The rise of common workspaces

One of the trends we see due to the digital economy is the rise of co-work spaces. There is a rise of bloggers, freelancers, and contractors. This flexible environment of working is ground-breaking as it gives people experience and the convenience to arrive at a working space to get work done and leaving as soon as it is done.

We forget that townships understand this concept well, as they are familiar with internet cafes. However, it has not yet been demonstrated how workspaces can be brought to the townships to give the entrepreneurs and small businesses the ability to work remotely and still own most of their day by not being stuck in the office. Perhaps the free wifi access that was trialled in Tshwane should be rolled out in township economies. Would any service provider in the public or private sector take up that challenge?

Revisiting the 4IR concepts

The aim of high technology is not out to take away jobs; however, it will change the nature of employment. One case in point, the traditional office will be a thing of the past transforming real estate and property development. Barter trading remains how people in the rural areas still trade; with technology, borrowing and making payments will be much easier for the people in remote rural areas too.

South Africa has committed to teaching students subjects like coding and programming, for example, however, we need to make it practical, in order to allow the youth of Africa to investigate problems in their communities and use the 4IR tools to solve them.

Moreover, perhaps the language of the 4IR needs to change so that everyone can understand their role and niche in being more than consumers but innovators. Politicians and successful entrepreneurs who have successfully grasped the idea behind the 4IR should stop using soundbites and buzzwords to explain the technology trends. Simplify the message. Education about the 4IR certainly does not end at schools. There needs to be a consciousness that is taught in conjunction with subjects such as coding, robotics, and programming, which allows people to make the products and services that are centred around Africa’s development and innovation.