The future state of our nation rests on collaboration

President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address last month highlighted the progress made since democracy dawned in South Africa. At the same time he touched on certain challenges and action plans needed to ignite growth and create jobs.

In particular, he alluded to the role that the private sector can play in helping to revive the economy that has been hampered by the global financial crisis.

One of the areas he mentioned as a potential catalyst for economic growth was information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and broadband rollout. MTN has heeded that call by investing billions of rands over the last twenty years in providing world-class connectivity to the most remote corners of the country.

The question is how this can be used to benefit the country as a whole while developing skills for a future that will undoubtedly be rooted in the knowledge economy.

The most obvious starting point is to direct these efforts at the thousands of children who can be reached in their formative years with technological solutions. This not only improves the quality of education, but also exposes them to concepts and skills they need to participate in a technology-driven future.

President Zuma mentioned the progress made in developing school infrastructure that provided many children with decent facilities for the very first time. This ranges from basic services such as classrooms, water, electricity, and ablutions to sports fields and science and computer labs.

We are proud to have played a leading role in providing some of this technology infrastructure as part of our licence obligations. Through the MTN Foundation, we have set up ICT centres at 208 schools over the past five years, touching the lives of about 84 000 pupils and 1 500 teachers.

Infrastructure such as this helps South Africa move toward the goal of developing an e-learning environment, although achieving that end goal requires close co-operation between the private sector and partners in the public sector space.

Last month Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi announced that his goal is to establish a paperless classroom environment throughout the province within five years. “MTN has played a crucial role in backing this proposal with financial and technical assistance, and we will continue to support such initiatives to achieve a brighter future for our youth.

Our approach to providing connectivity and computing services to schools has been that this must benefit communities at large. This not only achieves the goal of bridging the digital divide, but also does so in a manner that reaches beyond the classroom walls.

We have invested in community centres that benefit from ICT infrastructure by providing ICT training and public internet services. This promotes the sustainability of the infrastructure while also providing a point from which communities can access basic services such as airtime and data top-up.

This holistic approach is broadened by ensuring that technical and training services are provided by small to medium enterprises (SMEs) located in or near these communities. This ensures that the facilities are maintained and utilised while providing a viable business case for local entrepreneurs. This objective is in line with the president’s call for youth employment and entrepreneurship.

The MTN Foundation has done a lot of excellent work in this field by creating opportunities for small businesses and by establishing Business Support Centres in the communities where it operates.

These support centres and partnerships we have established with local development agencies provide vital services and training that promote the sustainability of small businesses, particularly those in outlying areas.

For more information about the MTN Foundation download its annual report here

The reality for many of the country’s rural and remote communities is that they struggle to obtain even the most basic of services. Healthcare is a case in point.

The role that technology can play in this space has been demonstrated to great effect by supporting improved communication and access to information between clinics and hospitals, and providing specialist knowledge through telemedicine solutions.

The impending rollout of the National Health Insurance scheme is going to make even greater demands on solid, reliable ICT and communications infrastructure if it is going to achieve its goals.

We have already demonstrated our ability and readiness to contribute to this cause through an R8-million investment in telemedicine equipment, which has provided 76 telemedicine workstations that connect 600 health professionals to the system.

Another area in which active support can be provided by the private sector for government’s objectives is in the area of energy efficiency and alternative power sources.

A large percentage of our base stations are off the grid thanks to solar and other energy sources, and even our power-hungry data centres rely on similar technology to minimise the pressure on the national electricity grid.

We believe there are many more similar opportunities for the private sector to reduce this reliance on a resource that has become quite scarce, often at the expense of essential public services such as hospitals and clinics.

The bottom line is that we all need to work hand-in-hand for our country to prosper. As President Zuma said: Together we move South Africa forward!