To bring South Africa up to speed in terms of the skills required to take advantage of the current explosion in ICT mobile capacity, there needs to be collaboration across government, business, education, civil society and global development agencies to develop and deliver sustainable change at a local level.

This is the word from Deputy Minister of Communications Obed Bapela, addressing a global partners workshop facilitated by the UN/UNDP on the e-skills challenges in South Africa.

He points out the the department has established the e-Skills Institute as a national catalytic collaborator and shaper to address the growing need for co-ordination and leadership in addressing the serious skills problem that the country faces in adequately addressing national strategic goals.

“Because it has recognised the complexity of the converging space of ICT, the e-SI has taken some well-considered time to engage with global IT, service providers across business, government, education and civil society in South Africa and beyond to develop an inclusive e-Skills Plan of Action (NeSPA) that has strong stakeholder support and maximises opportunities in the current ICT developmental space.”

He says there is a need to formally converge the activities of a number of existing entities so that a more inclusive approach can be developed, delivered and measured in innovative ways.

“We have learnt from past experience that simply throwing money at existing systems has a very mixed level of success when it comes to delivering against the real needs of our country,” Bapela says. “We now know that we have approach these things collectively across the board from the top down and from the bottom up; we have to take notice of what is happening elsewhere and we have to apply lessons within the context of our own environment.”

Bapela points out that there are a number of positive factors that can help South Africa leapfrog more developed economies in the development of ICT.

“Firstly, we have a collective approach that involves a number of state-owned enterprises,” he says. “In many countries these entities are now augmenting to government strategies as they fight increasing economies of scale of global players.

“Secondly, we have a surprising amount of dedicated skills and commitment in the right places in our society and, currently, an amazing interest in providing useful support from international business, education and donor countries.

“Thirdly, we are well positioned in terms of the technology leaps that are currently taking place. The convergence of increasing ICT capacity into mobile devices really suits places like South Africa,” Bapela says.

“Fourthly, we have a plan. The Medium Term Strategic Framework 2009-2014 of the country as a guiding light that can help all of our efforts focus on the very real problems we face.

“And, lastly, we have a political and leadership will and a lot of goodwill and interest from global ICT players and development partners who recognise that South Africa offers a place to develop new approaches to engage with half of the world’s population and that is indeed a very big market.”