Cultural challenges and regulatory limitations must be overcome for mobile operators to achieve social good, warned Mr. Strive Masiyiwa, founder of Africa’s Econet wireless. Mr. Masiyiwa was one of the main driving forces behind Africa’s telecoms sector development throughout the 1990s, and he has also won numerous accolades for his humanitarian work in the continent.
Speaking to Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA in this morning’s opening keynote, Mr. Masiyiwa said in the next 15 years the impact of the mobile industry on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) will be “profound”. But, not before he cautioned on some of the potential barriers. Firstly, he said the desire to achieve social good in the wider context must be driven right from the top of a company.
“The leadership must be committed. A lot of this stuff doesn’t look like it can scale. Mobile money wasn’t a success initially and if I had turned the other way, guys around me would have shut it down,” he said. “This is out of our comfort zone. There are going to be times where you have to allow it to develop, and sometimes these things will fall away, but there has to be a culture of experimentation.”
Mr. Masiyiwa continued to caution on potential push back from regulators if new initiatives are to be scaled and then pushed across borders. “This isn’t going to happen if regulators are ham fisted. You’ve got to allow the baby to come through. If they try to work out how they can make money out of it, or tax out of it, it’s dead. We need a partnership that is more than finding a pure technology.”
Finally, he urged a big push on education, and teaching the next generation of people vital skills like coding, with a future AI world in mind. “The biggest challenge is employment and creating jobs,” he said. “Education systems are not delivering the young people that can be employed in the future and that is a global crisis,” he said.