Kathy Gibson is at Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona – Emerging markets are not only capable of becoming digital economies: they are already leading in numerous areas.

The disruption we see in the developing world is a little different from developed markets and is potentially life-changing, points out Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx.

“Disruption has traditionally been a bit of a cliché,” he says. “But within just a few years, M-Pesa utterly transformed the Kenyan economy; today the East African economy is driven by mobile money.

“This shows that disruption is possible – and using the most basic technology is also possible.”

Another use case is Rwanda, which last year saw the first commercial drone deliveries in the world, with blood supplies delivered to remote areas. “Now Rwanda is a global case study for drones in commercial delivery,” Goldstuck says.

“The beginnings can be small – sometimes almost invisible,” he adds.

For instance, in South Africa, Yoco is a low-cost device that lets any small merchant take payments from credit cards and debit cards.

“Although there is a good level of financial inclusion in the country, small businesses have traditionally been unable to take payments,” Goldstuck says.

“But they can now take this a step further: using data from user transaction, traders are able to use trading history to predict risk and offer loans or cash advances. Again, this is transform the business landscape.

“From small beginnings, you are seeing these disruptive technologies go large.”

Internet of Things (IoT) is one area where South Africa leads the world by a large margin.

Goldstuck points to research that shows a massive 65% of South African enterprises already using IoT, with 84% of those not already using planning on doing so. In addition, 100% of enterprise indicate that cost is not an inhibitor to IoT adoption, but if they’re not planning or using it, there is just no use case.

“So where there is a business case, there is almost 100% uptake of IoT in South African organisations,” Goldstuck explains. “Not only that, but every one of the companies using IoT now are planning to increase their usage. This puts South Africa in a world-leading position when it comes to embracing IoT.”


The reason for this innovation and uptake is that IoT adoption is based on need, he adds. “And that need was because of the epidemic of vehicle theft.

“By using IoT – previously machine-to-machine connectivity or telematics – organisations are able to track vehicles to prevent theft or find them when they are stolen. Today, if you want to insure a car, you have to have a tracking device in it.

“So need has driven the market. This is the fundamental difference: in Silicon Valley, it is about finding a gap and the opportunity to serve customers better; in emerging markets, digital innovation is about need.”

Michel Rogy, practice manager: digital technology for EMEA at the World Bank, agrees that m any emerging markets are at the forefront when it comes to developing new technologies and finding new ways of using technology.

“In a true digital society we would expect digital technology to be part of every aspect of our lives,” he says. “We can expect it to change the way we interact in business and with health services, and to shape all aspects of our lives.”

Becoming a digital economy is not a simple black and white equation, Rogy adds. And, as technology advances, the bar for entering the digital economy is getting higher.

Some of the challenges inhibiting the uptake of digital technologies are a lack of affordable smartphones and patchy or non-existent power coverage in many countries.

He believes that, for a digital society to emerge in an emerging market, a number of enabling factors are required. They are:

* The availability of broadband Internet for everybody. “In most emerging economies, literacy is not as high in developed economies and broadband enables the use of videos and images.”

* The development of skills. “You need people to be able to use those technologies so you need to invest in skills so people can use the solutions, and also to bring technologies to people in the actives lives and to improve their businesses.

* The ability to pay or be paid. “Digital technology allows for a powerful way to bring financial inclusion.”

* The creation of entrepreneurs. “We need entrepreneurs so that technologies can be used to create new business opportunities and generate money.”

* The role of governments. “Government is a key stakeholder; and putting e-government services online can contribute to making digital society a reality.”

Rogy adds that creating a digital economy requires paying attention to the analogue foundations. “You need a competitive environment where the private sector can flourish,” he says. “You need an environment of trust. You need a safe internet so you need regulation and trusted services like certification. And we need our institutions to be able to thrive.

“It is by having this holistic approach that we believe every country can make a true difference and be able to leapfrog the economy,” he says.

Brad Jones of Wave Money believes that Myanmar makes the case for emerging economies and their ability to lead in the digital age.

“What we are seeing in Myanmar is just proving the point,” he says. “There has been an explosion of 4G and smartphone growth in Myanmar over the last four years. Today we have a situation where smartphones are $20.00 and where rice farmers check crop information online, check weather forecasts and improve their harvests using data.”

This means Wave Money has gone well beyond its initial mobile money solution to add other services that add value to users’ lives “We are connecting people and empowering society at the same time,” Jones says.