As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) gains momentum the digital divide is growing, leaving KwaZulu-Natal women behind.
DURBAN - As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) gains momentum the digital divide is growing, leaving KwaZulu-Natal women behind.

Moses Kotane Institute (MKI) chief executive Thandeka Ellenson says only 1.1 percent of households in the province have access to the internet, while ownership of digital devices in rural areas is low.

“As the digital revolution spreads rapidly, the notion of a digital divide in the rural areas should be taken into consideration,” says Ellenson. 

Ellenson says KZN needs to create opportunities for women in the informal sector of KZN to benefit from the 4IR as they are at the nexus of rural economies and technology.  
But the lack of funds to enable this connectivity and infrastructure is a major challenge.

“Equipment, such as 3D printers, is not available for everyone to have access to. 

"To have this available to businesses and women in the province requires funding,” says Ellenson.

To ignite more innovators and to increase more ownership on innovative products/service KZN is rolling out innovation labs in its rural municipalities, while the provincial government also has a plan for a big KZN Innovation Hub in the near future. 

MKI is working with the Dube Trade Port, which has already implemented a platform, which will enable rapid go-to-market of new technologies, through an existing base of small, micro and medium enterprises ICT companies.

The organisation is also rolling out innovation labs that will allow citizens in rural municipalities to access technology facilities such as 3D printing. 
The first lab is at Okhahlamba. A provincial innovation hub conceptualisation is also under way.

MKI says universal access to internet facilities coupled with digital literacy is key to empowering women and to enabling a more inclusive digital and technology-centred economy. 

Ellenson says the MKI’s Innovation Ignition Project is aimed at supporting entrepreneurs aspiring to initiate projects that are aimed at building their community's ability to supply their growing demand for goods and services. 

“The long-term goal of this project is for entrepreneurs to own the means of production in their communities, supply their own markets and create a circular economy. 

“In the process, the community-based entities will obtain the relevant skills and knowledge needed to close the digital gaps and develop their businesses. 

"In return, they will lift themselves out of poverty, while reducing inequality and their community's unemployment rate.”

MKI, which wants to be an internationally-recognised quality research institution driving economic development in KZN, says 4IR has spawned the sharing economy. 

A typical example of sharing economy is ride-hailing online services, such as Uber and Bolt (taxify)service, which allow customers to obtain taxi services from private car owners. In the context of KZN – a newly defined co-operative model is the future.

Ellenson says women are used to adapting to change and should therefore have no problem adapting to technological movements. 

However, more research was needed  on which skills would be required for the future as well as to seek to provide answers and predict the economic scenario for KwaZulu-Natal some 10 and 15 years from now, says Ellenson.

ONLY 1.1 percent of households in KZN have access to the internet, while ownership of digital devices in rural areas is low.

BUSINESS REPORT