Key economic issues to be addressed at WEF Africa in Cape Town. File Photo: IOL

CAPE TOWN – The World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa will hold its annual regional summit in Cape Town on September 4-6, 2019, under the theme "Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution".  

The 28th WEF on Africa will convene more than 1 000 regional and global leaders from politics, business, civil society and academia to shape regional and industry agendas in the year ahead. 

Business Report (BR) will not only cover the summit, but will participate in a series of panel discussions and industry partnerships as well as reporting on the events as it happens via our various platforms such as African News Agency (ANA), The Star, Cape Times, The Mercury, Pretoria News, Cape Argus and Africa Independent among others, in print, and online. 

Africa has a positive economic outlook, however, with some of the fastest-growing emerging and developing countries, the continent still faces many challenges from political to climate-related environment vulnerability.


According to the WEF website, The 4th Industrial Revolution signals a new era for regional partnerships and entrepreneurial and agile leadership to create pathways for shared prosperity and drive a sustainable future. 

The programme in Cape Town aims to tackle these issues by focusing on how to scale up the transformation of regional architecture related to smart institutions, investment, integration, industry and innovation.

With elections taking place in more than 20 African countries in 2019 Africa faces a new era. While significant political and economic progress has been made, the continent continues to face significant challenges.

The 28th World Economic Forum on Africa aims to tackle these issues by focusing on how to scale up the transformation of regional architecture related to smart institutions, investment, integration, industry and innovation.

Under the theme, Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the meeting will address the African Union’s Agenda 2063 regional strategic priorities under four programme tracks:

  • Innovation: Readiness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • Co-operation: Sustainable Development & Environmental Stewardship.
  • Growth: Digitalisation & Competitive Industries.
  • Stability: Leadership & Institutional Governance.

The discussions will focus on key industries and build on the launch of the first African Affiliate Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in South Africa.

The key focus areas

Blockchain:

One of the little talked-about challenges in the blockchain space is the need to communicate effectively to an audience that encompasses wildly divergent needs. 

While entrepreneurs, developers and other early adopters are often the loudest voices in the public conversation around blockchain, there’s also a vastly wider constituency of "blockchain curious" beginners who require more introductory information.

Five key terms WEF thought newcomers might find particularly useful:

  • Distributed ledger technology: Software that uses a blockchain or similar data structure shared over a network of participants who distribute and verify information about transactions.
  • Cryptography: The methods of using mathematical cyphers (or codes) to protect or "encrypt" transactions from third parties as the transactions are being stored or shared.
  • Token: A digital asset used in a blockchain transaction. A token can be native to the blockchain, such as a cryptocurrency, or it can be a digital representation of an off-chain asset (known as a tokenised asset), such as the title to a house.
  • Network nodes: Nodes represent agents or participants on a blockchain network, such as banks, government agencies, individuals, manufacturers or securities firms. Depending on the permissions set in the network, they may be able to approve, validate, send or receive transactions and data.
  • Consensus protocol: A set of rules and processes that determine how nodes on a blockchain network reach agreement about a set of data and whether to approve, or validate, transactions in the network.

Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship

Education is the primary tool for connecting people to the workplace. It is a building block that is used to aid employment. 

Employment, in turn, is the channel that allows people to be economically autonomous and to play an active role in the economy. 

However, in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the traditional avenues of employment are being challenged by the digitalisation of the workplace. 

In certain industries, the labour force is being eroded by the integration of 4th Industrial Revolution technologies, and in light of this entrepreneurship the second – and often forgotten – leg of employment needs to be urgently re-examined. 

A reconfiguration of our perception of education, employment and entrepreneurship can play a critical role in allowing people to build successful careers and businesses that are augmented and not threatened by these new technologies.

How an evolution in education can transform employment

In order for people to benefit from the 4th Industrial Revolution, they are going to have to broaden their skillsets and learn about these new technologies. 

The good thing is that the 4th Industrial Revolution is making skill development is a more seamless and accessible process. With mediums such as search engines like Google, massive open online courses like Edx and Coursea, podcasts and Youtube videos, a library of knowledge can be easily accessed. 

A reliance on linear monodisciplinary skillsets will restrict people’s ability to connect with the labour force as so many fields become augmented with technology and more interdisciplinary. 

Technology does not make people obsolete, but it does change the prerequisite for employment, as a retrospective look at the third industrial revolution demonstrates.

Industrialisation and employment during the 3rd Industrial Revolution

The shift towards automatisation and computerisation in the workplace during the previous industrial revolution created many fears similar to those emerging today. Computers in particular wreaked havoc, with newspapers and magazines headlining the term “computerphobia”. 

The motivation behind integrating technology into business and society is to improve efficiencies and reduce the costs of goods and services, with the fundamental aim of improving people’s quality of life – and following the 3rd Industrial Revolution, this was the result. 

Automatisation and computerisation allowed businesses to scale, new industries to be created and for the employment sector to expand globally. It also facilitated social developments; automatisation spurred many developing countries to grow into emerging economies. 

The third industrial revolution did not make human beings obsolete, but it did redefine the prerequisites of employment. Many employees had to undergo training to learn how to use the technologies being integrated into their companies, and there became an unspoken prerequisite that people must have a certain level of computer competency before they enter the workplace. 

Today, there will also be new prerequisites for the workplace, because industrialisation shapes the employment sector. The benefit of the 4th Industrial Revolution is that we have a much wider range of technology options to choose from, from social media to blockchain.

The future employee will be an entrepreneur

The indispensable employees of the 4th Industrial Revolution will be those with a broad and complementary skillset. As the integration of technologies into businesses and the business process increases, employees will have to be able to facilitate this objective. 

This can be achieved in different ways; it could be a lawyer learning coding and blockchain technology to execute smart contracts, or it could be an employee offering to create and manage a social media page for their company to help increase its sales. 

Businesses will shift towards a flatter organisational structure, and therefore each employee will be expected to play a more active and involved role in their company.

The 4th Industrial Revolution requires that people become more entrepreneurial in their approach to employment, and this new spirit can be exercised indirectly by being an intrapreneur – an employee who works for someone else but embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of being innovative and seeking continuous improvement of the things around them – or directly as an entrepreneur.

Content sourced from WEF. | Note: BR will publish a series of articles on WEF Africa in the next few weeks.

BUSINESS REPORT