Zinhle Mncube | August 23, 2023
The session, which was open to members of the public, was filled with progressive and thought-provoking dialogue from various members of respective Digital Working Groups from the BRICS member countries. Member countries were sharing their use cases of how they used various elements of the digital economy to unlock societal, civic and private sector change. In its sum total, the session in my view did not feel like a talk-shop. The spirit of the conversations had a veneer of intention from BRICS members to meaningfully collaborate, co-create and strengthen cohesion.
As the various member representatives were sharing use cases and experiences of technologies and innovations from their respective countries, what was clear is government’s involvement to enable these projects, pilots, or programmes to see the light of day. This came in the form of investment, policy environment enablement and, in some instances, a combination of all these facets. Government was not a mere bystander – but led from the front and rallied relevant parties towards a worthwhile outcome.
Technology and innovation are not the exclusive purview of the private sector or entrepreneurs. Government, as a consumer of this said technology and innovation, should be able to encourage its development and inclusivity, using as many levers it has in its vast arsenal. From my observation, while reflecting on the session, governments need to be mission-driven. When I refer to being mission-driven, I am describing the need to be singularly focused on achieving certain country aims.
In this light, I am not solely focused on the mission in and of itself. I am talking about the attitude, approach and focus of achieving the mission. Being mission-driven requires all spheres of government to sing from the same hymn sheet, while simultaneously putting on blinkers to avoid the distraction of the next shiny political object. Assuming that the mission has a wide range of benefits for its population, government would ride the mission until it breaches the finish line. This would include not performing Olympic-level somersaulting on policies, which do more harm than good; zero tolerance for crime and corruption, which has the ability of reducing even to nought, the established mission’s benefits.
Being mission-driven also means government always has mission-based objectives top of mind at all times and will ensure that the requisite resources are put in place for the mission to succeed. As an example, the Digital Economy Working Group from China produced a white paper that provided use cases of 5G and 5G+ technologies in bridging the digital divide, increasing digital upskilling amongst society and improving efficiencies in a number of industries. Achieving this requires an enabling and leading government that welcomes and upholds its role in society. A government that carefully considers its path, and once the path has been chosen, unwaveringly sticks to it until its finite end.
Often, a misconception arises that being mission-driven means the government must focus on one or two target sectors. This could not be further from the truth. There are nine working groups under the BRICS Business Council – and I can bet my tear-soaked Manchester United membership card that if we were to investigate each of these working groups, we will find member countries that have successful experiences that were supported by a laser-focused state committed to seeing through what it has started until the mission is completed. Even if the project is unsuccessful, there are valuable lessons which can be applied to better the next set of projects.
We have much to learn from other BRICS countries and their governments’ interaction with the private sector when it comes to how technology and innovation are enabled. More than anything, in their various capacities, they must have a passion for their success and prosperity of the country which pushes to be mission-driven and laser-focused. I believe we must learn their habits when it comes to proactivity, rather than reactivity, being deliberate, developing the legs to follow things through, while sticking to the plan as much as possible.
If we do not learn to build these muscles into our government, we may find ourselves on the other side of a bric(k) with no arms to climb over it.
Zinhle Mncube is the Investment Associate at 22 On Sloane, Africa’s Largest Startup Campus.
22 On Sloane is the largest startup campus in Africa. The campus offers disruptive startups and innovative SMEs a complete turnkey solution to scale, from the initial idea all the way to commercialisation, funding opportunities and access to markets. Its aim is to nurture the entrepreneurial mindset, ensure their sustainability, and explore development of new industries and contribute towards job creation in Africa.
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