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Cross-Post: Digital Inclusion: The Role of the Mobile Network Operator in Africa


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The original post was featured on GSMA Conference Confidential and can be found here.

The Mobile 360 Africa series brings together leaders from Africa’s technology and telecom industries for one of Africa’s largest gathering of technology practitioners. Mobile network operators, donors, development partners, technology companies and startups all convene to engage in thought provoking conversations and showcase innovations that can take Africa to the next level of technology advancement.

The recent Mobile 360 Africa series was held in the land of a thousand hills: Rwanda. Hosted at the Kigali Convention Centre, I had the privilege of having a one-on-one fireside chat with Phillip Amoateng, the phenomenal advocate for mobile internet skills in Airtel CEO for Rwanda.

The fireside chat, ‘Digital Inclusion: The role of the operator in Africa,’ took place during the session ‘Is the Digital Landscape Inclusive for All.’ In this increasingly connected and digital world, consumers are using a wide range of mobile-enabled services for education, agriculture, health, finance and utilities. But despite significant growth in mobile usage across developed regions, in low- and middle-income countries, certain segments of society are being left behind: women, individuals with less education, rural residents, and the poor account for a disproportionate number of those not connected.

Over the years, we have seen increased investments in infrastructure and growth of mobile subscriptions. But it’s not just infrastructure that needs continued investments – users still exhibit limited user capabilities, with most adults in low- and middle-income countries not having basic digital skills and competences. Across Africa, seven in ten people who do not use the internet say they just don’t know how to use it. Even in Europe, 19 percent of adults lack the literacy skills, and 45 percent lack the basic digital skills, needed to function fully in a modern society. Interestingly, women are 1.6 times more likely than men to report lack of digital skills as a factor limiting their use of the internet.

Thus, it was interesting to learn from Phillip about the strides that Airtel Rwanda has taken in enhancing mobile internet skills training in a quest to enhance the ability of users to use basic internet applications, understand internet bundles and how to check balances.

On the Mobile Internet Skills Training pilot that Airtel conducted in Rwanda, which reached a quarter of a million subscribers with 300 agents, Phillip said it was encouraging to see first-time internet users discover the value of internet based applications. Tigo sales agents were trained by Airtel/Tigo staff, who then in turn, trained customers that visited their shops.

“We learned that customers once taught, would create a ripple effect by training other community embers within their circle.”

And the benefit of creating a learning environment is transformative.

“Being internet literate is not just about being online but also being available for opportunities. Apart from being in constant contact with friends and families there are also economic benefits and opportunities such as new and better jobs. We highlight the value of the internet as a means of enhancing opportunities for jobs, learning, and business, and more.”

We also discussed the roles MNOs can play in addressing challenges of affordability and digital skills training. MNOs can leverage partnerships with education institutions and non-formal education structures to enhance mobile internet skills training. With increasing smart phone penetration, apps will make learning internet skills easier.

As I left the Better Future Stage having had such an insightful conversation with Phillip, I wondered what would happen if all mobile network operators integrated mobile internet skills training for mobile users, particularly those within the low literacy bracket. The number of digitally illiterate Africans would drastically reduce and create more opportunities for communication, learning, jobs and businesses. The future of mobile internet is vast and it’s up to us to make sure everyone is included in its benefits.

See the GSMA report on the Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit here.

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