KitsoNet Set to Boost Botswana’s Digital Economy
The world is in the midst of an unfolding digital revolution and Botswana is no exception. The country has a robust ICT policy known as Maitlamo and enjoys, ‘low technological entry barriers and fixed costs’ which present it with the opportunity to participate and reap social and economic gains from a burgeoning ICT sector. However, for a country of its socio-economic and political standing, Botswana has a very low uptake of ICT’s by individuals, businesses and government.
Enhanced ICT services required for effective participation in the emerging knowledge economy continue to elude a vast majority of the population, and there is evidence that the country’s competitive position in ICT is slipping, as measured in international rankings.
The low uptake of ICT’s and slide in international rankings is compounded by high levels of unemployed IT graduates which poses a threat to national security and prosperity. The paradox of youth unemployment is that there is a critical skills shortage owing to a mismatch between demand in the labour market and available skills.
According to Senior Research Fellow at Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA), Dr Grace Tabengwa, it is young people who bear the brunt of the series of demographic and economic shifts of the global socio-economic and political interplay that renders them unemployed. She said studies show that youth unemployment is precipitated by a mismatch between demand in the labour market and available skills and bridging the gap between the extended pool of untapped talent and the shortage of skills is imperative.
It is widely acknowledged that the adoption and use of ICT’s for government and trade by countries can contribute significantly to the development and renovation of established economic and social sectors by reducing unemployment, especially among the youth and boosting efficiencies in service delivery. “Human capital development is a key factor that can transform developing countries’ growth prospects through efficiency, competitiveness and attracting foreign direct investment inflow where expertise of skills is key,” states Dr Tabengwa.
The World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Information Report on ICT usage, ranks Botswana 99 out of 144 countries. The report measures the extent to which ICT’s enable access for all citizens to basic services such as health, education and financial services among others. According to the report, Botswana ranks at 98, 96 and 91 on ICT usage among individuals, business and government respectively. The report further ranked the country 119 and 122 on business to business internet use and business to consumer internet usage respectively.
Concerns about the country’s low uptake of ICT and high levels of unemployed IT graduates were raised by industry players at the recent ICT Pitso held in Gaborone from the 4th to 5th September, 2014. Participants identified the slow take-off of e-government and e-commerce as negatively affecting service delivery in different sectors of the economy and pointed to the adoption of ICT as a critical success factor for personal development, competitive business environment and open, transparent and efficient governance.
Addressing public hearings on the National ICT Policy recently, the outgoing Chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications, Works, Transport and ICT, Odirile Motlhale said although Maitlamo has been around since 2007, Botswana is still in the early stages of ICT’s use in both trade and government. “ICT is yet to be fully utilised at the level it is expected to be in Botswana because initiatives and projects that could aid its uptake by citizens are lagging behind,” he said.
Motlhale said the objective of the policy was to improve legislative oversight, contribute to strengthened implementation of ICT policies and programmes, strengthen stakeholder engagement between civil society and parliament, and bridge the gap between country’s experts and national decision makers.
Elsewhere, in a paper on The Analysis of Mobile Commerce in Botswana, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC), Chief Operations Officer, Anthony Masunga said while the rest of the world has moved on from e-commerce to m-commerce with mobile technology replacing cash payments, Botswana was still lagging behind. He said a recent case study they conducted revealed that, “75% of the respondents use cash and cheque for payment of monthly bills and that on average 70% of the respondents spend between 15 to 45 minutes in bill payment queues.”
This less productive and time consuming, over-the-counter payment method of bills and application for services reflects the slow responsiveness by a large proportion of the citizenry to transact with government through e-government in areas such as tax filling, application for Omang, driver’s license renewal, business registration among others.
In an effort to bridge the digital divide, boost the country’s digital economy and arrest and reverse the tide of youth unemployment, Botswana Innovation Hub has partnered with Microsoft Innovation Centre (MIC) to launch the KitsoNet and KitsoWorks initiatives.
“KitsoNet is a scheme designed to drive the uptake of internet use and e-commerce through an online portal or store,www.kitsonet.co.bw. The scheme assists public servants and government sponsored students earning allowances to purchase ICT devices, services and training through a salary or allowance advance scheme arranged through First National Bank (FNB),” said MIC Manager, Patel Barwabatsile.
“The main aim of this scheme is to increase household ownership of ICT devices which will prop-up internet penetration, encourage innovation and use of e-commerce as well as support the development of locally relevant ICT products and services which is key to increasing the country’s technological readiness and competitiveness,” he said.
For his part the Director Marketing, ICT and Registration at Botswana Innovation Hub, Dr Geoffrey Seleka said Botswana Innovation Hub acts as a catalyst in the development of the ICT industry and creation of a local innovative supporting ecosystem. He said the company supports the development of innovative local content, skills and job creation as part of the ICT development strategy and e-government.
Dr Seleka said to tackle ICT graduate unemployment, Botswana Innovation Hub has collaborated with MIC and the Department of National Internship Programme in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, to setup a youth empowerment programme called KitsoWorks.
KitsoWorks is a localised version of the Global Microsoft YouthSpark platform with a job search function, youth mentoring and social and professional networking features. The initiative connects young people around the world with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship. “The Botswana version of the programme helps unemployed Batswana graduates gain the necessary skills for seamless integration into the emerging digital economy,” declares Patel.
KitsoWorks accords Batswana graduates seeking jobs and business opportunities to submit their credentials to the online platform or database where they can be searched by those looking for talent and vice versa. The graduate’s deliver value to a pool of participating local companies and in turn receive structured mentorship from their host organisations. “This programme leverages the knowledge, expertise and creativity of industry players and harnesses their technology transfer to build the country’s innovation ecosystem that invariably addresses the country’s socio-economic challenges such as youth unemployment,” states Patel.
Dr Seleka sees both the KitsoNet and KitsoWorks initiatives modelling the future of Botswana and positioning the country for the next phase of economic development, which is the knowledge-based or weightless economy. He says the two initiatives will give e-government and e-commerce a boost and, “will spur national efforts to universal access to broadband; support workforce development and professional skills enhancement; boost employment and contribute to the country’s economic development by fostering technology transfer and creating new scientific and technological business opportunities,” he said.
By Tigele Mokobi