Wednesday, January 26

Dump diamonds for digital? – Moneyweb


Every time a plane crossed the sky over the village of Kgomotso Phatsima in rural Botswana, she would stop, look up, and swear that she too would fly high one day.

Phatsima has more than delivered on its promise.

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Not only did she become one of the country’s first female military pilots, the 36-year-old has also built an organization that trains thousands of girls in robotics, coding and entrepreneurship programs.

Your graduates can celebrate their digital achievements with a journey in real life, piloted by Captain Phatsima.

“We use the power of flight to ignite new passions and we can see that things are changing … technology will take our country to the next level,” Phatsima said.

Phatsima is just one part of a national drive to diversify Botswana’s economy, investing in science, technology and entrepreneurship to decrease dependence on diamond mining.

His main focus is young women; other entrepreneurs have chosen to bet on different competencies or sectors. Everyone is eager to reform Botswana’s economic model, their momentum only compounded by the pandemic.

“Covid was a wake-up call for Botswana that tomorrow’s careers will be in programming, innovation and technology,” Phatsima told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from the country’s innovation center in Gaborone, the capital.

“As life moved online, it opened our eyes that robotics and coding are good for kids in the future,” said Phatsima, who has also worked as a teacher and trained as a security specialist for the aviation in its crowded career.

Diamonds are not forever

Botswana’s post-independence economy was boosted by the discovery of diamonds below the surface of the earth, a resource that placed one of the world’s poorest countries in the middle-income group, according to the World Bank.

Mining remains the main source of income for this sparsely populated southern African country, accounting for just under 20% of total gross domestic product.

But in recent years the government has begun to invest in a “knowledge-based economy,” one that does not depend on a finite resource or can be easily dodged by a pandemic.

Instead, it relies on the minds of its citizens who have benefited from a free education, government officials say.

“We need to diversify our economy … the fourth industrial revolution needs people in the digital world and our natural resources are finite,” said Douglas Letsholathebe, minister for tertiary education, research, science and technology.

With high levels of inequality, an unemployment rate of 24.5%, and a population of just over 2 million, Batswana is enthusiastically launching initiatives from e-learning to online marketplaces, all while navigating financing challenges in the Covid-19 era.

Afroca’s Silicon Valley?

Phatsima operates from the Botswana Digital and Innovation Hub, launched in 2014 to create a generation of startups by bringing together all kinds of tech entrepreneurs in a single industrial park.

Online images feature sleek architecture, floating drones, modern shuttles, and travelers on floating bikes and skateboards.

A happy world that is not. Because the pandemic disrupted construction, and while some offices are beginning to fill up, others are empty amid the builders’ rubble.

“There should be a lot going on here, we should have young people intertwined doing all sorts of things from room to room if we want to be seen as the Silicon Valley of Africa,” Phatsima said.

But young inventors say finding funding is the main hurdle.

Ked-Liphi, a local startup that invents simple, everyday objects with an eye on social justice, says it has had to self-finance its products every step of the way.

Its inventory is large and practical.

When the pandemic hit, they created a temperature monitoring machine with built-in facial recognition, sanitizer dispenser, and ID card scanner – all meant to slow down transmissions.

More recently, they have built a backpack with a built-in solar panel that charges when students walk to school, allowing them to plug in devices or light sources at home.

It also has a built-in tracker to locate children in countries with high kidnapping rates, the founders of Ked-Liphi said.

“Accessing finance has been a challenge,” said Kedumetse Liphi, the 31-year-old founder of Ked-Liphi.

“It took months to meet with government agencies and then they rejected us, they said we need a letter of intent from a company interested in working with us but we only have a prototype, we need financing to commercialize first,” he said. .

Balancing act

Handing out money to entrepreneurs in a country that lacks universal electricity or adequate roads is a good balancing act, Minister Letsholathebe said.

“If I find you stuck and you don’t have gas, and then I see someone starving, who do I start with? Naturally, I will start feeding someone to survive, then I will come back to you and tell you that it is okay, now I can help you too, “said Letsholathebe.

Amid all the talk about automation, innovation and a fourth industrial revolution, mining workers fear being left behind as the economy shifts gears.

“Our fear is that job losses are coming,” said Kitso Phiri, executive secretary of the Botswana miners union.

“We want the government to commit to reorganizing and training mining workers … and making sure that the fourth industrial revolution does not have a negative impact on job security,” said Phiri.

Phatsima agrees that while technology is key, it is only “an enabler” that relies on robust policies and processes to function.

Letsholathebe said that “no one will be left behind” and that the government is funding new ideas and digital training in the classroom to foster a “mindset shift that technology is for everyone.”

Thirteen-year-old Katlo Ntwaetsile started learning robotics at school and also attended Phatsima workshops downtown.

“I learned how to code and build a robot and use software to make the robot move … this has changed the way I thought about my future,” said Ntwaetsile.

“I realized that I can be an engineer, a pilot or a businesswoman in control of my life, earn my own money and create jobs … if we use technology in the right way, I think we will have a more equitable country.”


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