Smangele Nkosi, GM, Cisco South Africa, gave an exclusive interview with Telecom Review Africa. The discussion revolved around Cisco's role in Africa's digital transformation and the significance of connectivity. Nkosi delved into projected statistics for mobile subscribers and 5G connections by 2025. Additionally, she highlighted how innovation and entrepreneurship contribute to Africa's digital economy, providing specific examples of start-ups and initiatives.

How is Cisco contributing to Africa's digital transformation, particularly in terms of connectivity and workforce development? 

Cisco plays a pivotal role in catalyzing Africa's digital transformation journey. One of the foundational pillars of digital transformation is reliable energy access, and Cisco recognizes this. Through its support for the "Solar Sister" initiative, Cisco addresses energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa: a fundamental barrier to digital growth. Solar Sister empowers women entrepreneurs to distribute solar-powered products in off-grid communities.

By ensuring these communities have access to consistent energy, Cisco is laying the groundwork for further digital interventions. Reliable energy access means communities can charge mobile devices, access digital services, and participate in the digital economy. Moreover, by focusing on women's empowerment, Cisco cultivates an environment where economic and educational opportunities can flourish, further setting the stage for digital growth.

In addition to foundational energy initiatives, Cisco also prioritizes EDGE Centers. Founded in 2015 as part of the Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program, these centers showcase Cisco’s commitment to fostering technological innovation and workforce development in Africa. An acronym for Experience, Design, Go-to-Market, and Earn, EDGE Centers are more than just workspaces. They serve as hubs where businesses and Cisco partners can immerse themselves in the latest Cisco technologies, collaborate with experts, and build partnerships. Tailored to the specific needs of their locations, these centers are instrumental in promoting technological innovation, creating jobs, and stimulating economic growth.

Lastly, the Cisco Networking Academy stands as a beacon in Cisco's efforts to bridge the digital skills gap in Africa. This global initiative collaborates with governments, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations to deliver a robust curriculum in areas like networking, cybersecurity, and the Internet of Things (IoT). The academy's impact is particularly pronounced in regions like Kenya and Nigeria, where over 90% of students, after completing their Cisco certification courses, have found jobs or pursued further education.

Cisco's multi-pronged approach, from ensuring foundational energy access to offering advanced IT training, demonstrates its comprehensive commitment to driving Africa's digital transformation.

What role does connectivity, particularly mobile technology, play in Africa's digital transformation, and what are the projected statistics for mobile subscribers and 5G connections by 2025? 

Mobile connectivity is a linchpin in Africa's digital transformation journey. By 2025, projections indicate that Africa will boast 613 million unique mobile subscribers, representing 50% of its population, and an impressive 41 million 5G connections. A significant portion of South Africans, almost two-thirds, rely on mobile technology for their home internet connectivity.

This widespread mobile connectivity is not only bridging communication gaps, but also enabling new business opportunities, enhancing access to education, healthcare, and other essential services, and fostering innovation across various sectors. By 2025, mobile technologies and services are poised to infuse a staggering $154 billion into Sub-Saharan Africa's economy, highlighting the transformative power of mobile connectivity in the region.

How is Cisco addressing the digital skills gap in Africa, and what initiatives or programs are in place to empower the workforce with essential technological knowledge? 

Cisco's proactive approach to the digital skills gap in Africa is evident in its initiatives, notably the Cisco Networking Academy. Recognized as one of the world's premier IT skills-to-jobs education programs, the academy collaborates with governments, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations across Africa. It offers a robust curriculum in critical domains, ensuring learners are equipped with both technical and professional skills. The academy's curriculum, enriched by Cisco's expertise, prepares students for the dynamic digital world.

Cisco's recent commitment to train 25 million learners globally in the next ten years further amplifies its dedication to bridging the digital skills gap.

In what ways are innovation and entrepreneurship contributing to Africa's digital economy, and can you provide specific examples of start-ups and initiatives?

Innovation and entrepreneurship are the lifeblood of Africa's burgeoning digital economy. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge exemplifies this spirit, encouraging entrepreneurs to devise solutions for global challenges. A shining example is the Kenyan team, Drop Access, which developed VacciBox, a solar-powered refrigerator for vaccine storage. This innovation underscores Africa's potential to address global challenges with local solutions.

Kenya, often dubbed the "Silicon Savanah," is a testament to Africa's entrepreneurial spirit. With initiatives bolstering its ICT infrastructure, such as extensive fiber optic cable rollouts and local smartphone manufacturing plans, Kenya is creating a conducive environment for startups. Innovations like the Tupande farming app, supported by a Cisco grant, are revolutionizing sectors like agriculture, directly impacting grassroots levels and showcasing how technology can transform traditional sectors.

Why is education essential for Africa's digital growth, and how are initiatives like South Africa's National Skills Fund and Cisco's Networking Academy addressing the digital skills gap? 

Education is the cornerstone of Africa's digital ascent. As the fourth industrial revolution unfolds, the imperative for digital skills becomes even more pronounced. For Africa, with its vibrant youth demographic, education is the key to unlocking the digital economy's potential. The digital skills gap is a pressing concern, and initiatives like South Africa's National Skills Fund, which has allocated R800 million for digital skills training for the youth, highlight the concerted efforts to address this.

The Cisco Networking Academy is another beacon in this endeavor. Beyond being an educational initiative, the academy embodies Cisco's vision for a digitally empowered Africa. By offering courses across various IT domains, the academy is nurturing a workforce ready for tomorrow's challenges. The academy's hands-on approach ensures students are not only well-versed in theory but also industry ready. Collectively, these initiatives underscore the pivotal role of education in ensuring Africa's digital future is inclusive and prosperous.

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