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XL Africa: Accelerating Africa’s Digital Start-Ups

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Chika Uwazie, 29, is the dynamic and successful founder of a company providing payroll solutions to Nigerian businesses. She is one of 20 top African digital start-ups supported by the World Bank Group through its XL Africa acceleration program.

A pan-African pilot program, XL Africa’s objective is to scale up high-growth digital start-ups that are providing services and generating revenue while creating employment. The program aims to help businesses attract capital between $250,000 and $1.5 million. It culminated in a two-week residency in Cape Town, South Africa, where entrepreneurs pitched their business concepts to investors following intense mentorship and support on getting investment-ready. Coming from eight different countries, they provide services including solar energy, event planning, printing, and agriculture data via drones.

“Being here, pitching to investors has been very helpful. I could never have got this exposure. It’s hard to be in a room full of investors interested in investing in Africa,” said Uwazie. “But what we need are people who will help us open doors, mentors who understand how Nigeria works.”

Uwazie said it was helpful to spend time with her peers, Africa’s crème de la crème of start-ups, who went through a rigorous selection process from over 900 applicants to be chosen for the XL Africa program.

She founded her company, TalentBase, whose motto is “bringing payroll online across Africa” after working in human resources for 10 years and says providing a software solution in this sector was a natural progression. Next, Uwazie plans to take TalentBase to other countries such as Kenya and Ghana.

Paul Noumba Um, World Bank country director for southern Africa, said XL Africa showed that scaling up Africa’s top start-ups was a worthwhile project which needs continued support.

“What I saw here is really exciting. These are companies that are already running and solving problems in Africa and helping consumers and businesses to be more efficient. For instance, if you are in Nigeria, there’s Rensource, which offers affordable electricity supply, and a company can run without having to worry about investing in back-up generators,” he said. “It’s great to see the World Bank Group develop a platform such as XL Africa for identifying and nurturing innovative and disruptive start-ups, but we need to continue building national and regional ecosystems to multiply these successes.”

In designing XL Africa, the World Bank Group elected to target the investment readiness of the top digital firms that were poised for scaling through custom mentorship and direct access to investors, a need unmet by many existing accelerators on the continent. Sourcing experienced local mentors for the program was especially difficult and is among the elements of Africa’s entrepreneurship ecosystems that need further strengthening for future generations of pan-African programming to be successful, said Natasha Kapil, World Bank senior private sector specialist.

Down the hall from the young entrepreneurs’ pitch session were policymakers, donors, and investors in a forum exchanging ideas about what was required to scale high-growth start-ups like the ones in the XL Africa program. They discussed how providing support to entrepreneurs could be done more effectively, asking whether acceleration was a panacea to solving problems experienced by start-ups and whether the model used in the XL Africa program, which worked well with digital start-ups, could do the same for other sectors.

Tony Elumelu Foundation CEO Parminder Vir highlighted the importance of empathy. She said there was a need for investors to become mentors to start-ups to learn about their reality, as this would enable investors to better empathize with the entrepreneurs while bringing their business acumen to the creativity offered by the entrepreneurs. She urged investors to “take a risk and invest in Africa’s talent.”

Vir said it was critical to utilize well-tested African models that are successful and combine them with Western models to build “a truly African ecosystem by Africans. Let’s develop models from Africa. Let’s get African capital to work for Africa.”

She also said governments had a critical role in creating enabling environments for entrepreneurs, citing Rwanda, Tanzania, and South Africa as some of the countries in Africa with the most developed ecosystems, but still needing their governments to address basic internet access issues.

Also speaking at the forum was Hugues Vincent-Genod, senior investment officer at Investisseurs and Partenaires, an investment group with 50 years of investing, mostly in West Africa. He said their challenge was working with entrepreneurs who were not investment-ready. “Most important is providing seed finance and letting those who fade do, as this is what helps to pick the winners, who will create jobs,” he said. Vincent-Genod also said donors had a critical role to play in de-risking investment in the early stages of technology start-ups.

Klaus Tilmes, World Bank Group director of the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, said, “As donors, we need to focus on scalable models supporting innovation and digital entrepreneurs that are attractive to angel and venture investors.” He said Africa was mature enough to create its own models that included local investors, adding that it was important to leverage government support and to have continuous collaboration with partners that show accountability.

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The urgent need for new action and thinking on the governance of emerging technologies

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The World Economic Forum today released a new book by its Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab entitled Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The book aims to help leaders develop the techniques necessary to harness technological advances to solve critical global challenges.

The book is a sequel to Schwab’s bestselling 2016 book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution. The new book provides a practical guide to understanding 12 sets of emerging technologies from a systems perspective and better appreciating the rules, norms, institutions and values that shape their development and use.

Such an approach is necessary, Schwab argues, given the unprecedented speed at which technology is developing, which makes outdated and redundant the approaches of governments, regulators and companies on which we rely to manage the impact of technologies.

Schwab’s response is for leaders to adopt a “systems leadership” approach to ensure that developments in technology are not able to occur without parallel consideration being given to rules, norms, values and infrastructure. Unless technology develops within an inclusive and sustainable governance system, the Fourth Industrial Revolution could exacerbate income inequality and leaving billions of people behind, while wasting the opportunity to deploy technology to help address global challenges.

“It took the world more than a decade to develop a collective response to climate change. If we take the same amount of time to respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will have lost the opportunity to influence the development of the technologies that shape the way we work, live and act. If we act now, we have the opportunity to ensure that technologies – such as artificial intelligence – sustainably and meaningfully improve the lives and prospects of as many people as possible,” said Schwab.

The book calls on leaders to rapidly adopt the concept of agile governance of technologies, matching the nimbleness of the technologies and the private-sector actors who create them in constantly updating and rethinking rules in collaboration with other sectors. For businesses, greater experimentation with new technologies and greater investment in people and skills are required to maximize firms’ ability to develop and bring to market winning innovations.

When it comes to the general public, Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution urges people to be engaged in the issues surrounding the evolution of technology, and to make their voice heard to ensure that technology plays a positive role in helping to build a sustainable, inclusive, innovation-driven future.

Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution draws on the contributions of more than 200 of the world’s leading technology, economic and sociological experts to present a practical guide for citizens, business leaders, social influencers and policy-makers. It outlines the most important dynamics of the technology revolution; highlights important stakeholders who are often overlooked in the discussion of the latest scientific breakthroughs; and explores 12 technology areas central to the future of humanity. It was co-authored by Nicholas Davis, the World Economic Forum’s Head of Society and Innovation, and features a foreword by Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft Corporation.

The preparation of this book has also led to the creation of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco, soon to be supported by a network of affiliated centers around the world, to establish an agile governance cooperation platform for business and government.

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Cybersecurity Threats Outpacing Abilities of Governments and Companies

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Cybersecurity threats are outpacing the ability to overcome them unless all stakeholders begin to cooperate. The increasingly networked, digitized, and connected world is vulnerable to cyber-threats that can only be addressed by the combined capabilities of the public and private sectors, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Cyber Resilience: Playbook for Public-Private Collaboration is a tool to facilitate capacity-building, policies and processes necessary to support collaboration, safeguard cyberspace and strengthen cyber-resilience.

“We need to recognize cybersecurity as a public good and move beyond the polarizing rhetoric of the current security debate. Only through collective action can we hope to meet the global challenge of cybersecurity,” said Daniel Dobrygowski, Project Lead for Cyber Resilience at the World Economic Forum.

Working collaboratively in the cybersecurity space is difficult. Cyber-threats are complex, dynamic and increasingly personal as technology saturates our economy and society. Addressing these threats requires dialogue across industries and competencies, and on subjects from the technical to the ethical. Currently, dialogue between leaders in the public and private sectors is often off-target and at cross purposes. Policy implementation also varies by national context: every country has its own unique capabilities, vulnerabilities and priorities.

“There is no simple, elegant policy solution or silver bullet here. The iterative progress and feedback loop used in software development should be a model for improving policy,” said Walter Bohmayr, Global Leader of Cybersecurity at BCG.

The Cyber Resilience: Playbook for Public-Private Collaboration report helps leaders develop a baseline understanding of the key issues and pros and cons of different policy positions on cybersecurity. The policy models discussed in detail include Zero-Days, Vulnerability Liability, Botnet Disruption, Encryption, and 10 others.

In connecting norms and values to policy, the report encourages all actors to move past absolute and rigid positions towards more nuanced discussions aimed at solving key challenges, and presents the implications of policy choices on five key values: security, privacy, economic value, accountability and fairness. Cyber-resilience will continue to be a top-of-mind topic for decision-makers, and the Forum intends to continue leading future efforts in this space through its new Global Centre for Cybersecurity, which will be presented at the Annual Meeting in Davos.

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Buckle up for the new passenger economy

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A hundred years ago, few thought that the clunky automobile that broke down so often would ever replace a horse. In the 1970s, people wondered if the personal computer that a few eccentrics were using would have any use beyond storing recipes. It’s safe to say that these innovations, along with many of the technologies we now use daily, were once considered impossible dreams.

Right now, the most-talked-about piece of technological innovation that is poised to transform our lives is the autonomous or self-driving car. As self-driving cars gain widespread adoption, analysts are predicting the rise of what is known as the passenger economy — a term coined by Intel — that is expected to be worth $7 trillion by 2050 as validated in a new report by analyst firm Strategy Analytics.

Seven trillion dollars is a lot of money! A decade ago, people couldn’t fully imagine the way smartphones would give rise to the app economy. Today we are at the threshold of something equally momentous — that’s why entrepreneurs and investors are now beginning to imagine the economic possibilities tied in with autonomous cars.

The following are five big areas of opportunity that will unfold in the passenger economy era.

Time will be on people’s side. One of the most obvious benefits of a self-driving car is the amount of time it frees up. Drivers become passengers, and so will be able to concentrate on other tasks. Not only will people be able to work or watch a movie on their way to work, but the commute itself will be shorter, since traffic congestion will become a thing of the past. With smarter analytics, it’s estimated that by 2050, the widespread use of autonomous cars will free up over 250 million hours of commute time per year in the most congested cities.

Apps were only the beginning. As more people use autonomous cars, companies and entrepreneurs will respond by developing innovative applications that will entertain and provide services to passengers. Just like innovators used smartphones to unlock the sharing economy, there will be opportunities for startups to discover new “car-veniences” that will be expected to generate some $200 billion in revenue.

A new world of advertising. From the late ’90s, we started seeing new forms of advertising emerge on the web. With self-driving cars, we are poised to see powerful new opportunities that deliver personalized messages to consumers. For instance, algorithms can compute routes and route history to hone in on passengers with specific onboard advertisements from surrounding businesses or attractions. This could be a huge boost to local businesses and will be much more effective than the primitive billboard.

Mobility-as-a-service. Imagine ordering take-out, or having your groceries or a package of diapers come to your door via a driverless car. This is something that we’re likely to see fairly soon. Shipping and freight companies, local delivery services and internet giants will make use of autonomous vehicles to transport goods across the country. These types of services will likely generate $3 trillion in revenues by 2050.

New business models. Today, many companies offer perks such as work-from-home days or the option for people to leave the office to work in a cafe or wherever is most suitable for them. In the not-too-distant future, the workplace will further transform as the commute evolves. The self-driving car will blend with the office, turning the commute into a productive part of the workday. In turn, this will allow people to go home earlier and spend more time with their families.

The advent of the passenger economy will contribute to a safer and more efficient world. Those who can imagine and anticipate the coming changes will be in the best position to get the most out of it.

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