In 2019, the World Bank dubbed South Africa the world’s most unequal country. Since then, people across the country and the African continent continue to face a myriad of daily challenges with a newer form of disparity — the digital divide — contributing to the growing inequality faced by millions.

In 2020, PwC launched a three-year global collaboration with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) in support of Generation Unlimited, which aims to help upskill millions of young people around the world. Over the past two years, PwC South Africa and Unicef have rolled out targeted upskilling initiatives and have begun to see the positive impact they are having on South Africa’s youth. However, a large gap still remains.

Recent research conducted by the South African social enterprise, Capacitate Social Solutions, shows that South Africa’s digital divide has extended to an organisational level where small enterprises and non-profit organisations are unable to access technologies that could enhance their productivity and scale their impact in underprivileged communities. This results in these organisations being excluded from the benefits of an increasingly digital economy because they lack the resources and skills needed to access relevant technologies.

In a new report entitled “From disruption to transformation: Bridging the digital divide in civil society”, PwC South Africa, in collaboration with UNICEF and Capacitate Social Solutions, outlines how various types of barriers (awareness, financial and skill barriers) manifest within these types of organisations. The report also explores issues of data governance and privacy pressures, operationalisation, technology lifecycles, poor sustainability planning and adoption and usage.

Driving digital transformation

Digital inequalities do not only reinforce existing social inequalities, but place poorer individuals at a greater disadvantage. The same can be said for smaller organisations. Technologies have the ability to increase productivity and can also help organisations to overcome logistical bottlenecks and corruption in supply-chain management and administrative processes.

Therefore, having a clear roadmap with the necessary support is how many organisations will be able to transition to a digitally-optimised operation.

Marthle du Plessis, PwC Africa Workforce of the Future platform lead, says: “This roadmap requires mentorship, guidance and digital savvy to navigate the technology and to ensure that the required policies and procedures are in place to institutionalise changes. In the report, we outline the adoption of a phased approach that can help ease these types of transitions.”

The report discusses a four-stage approach that includes assessment and planning; digital migration; digital transformation; and digital compliance.

Dion Shango, PwC Africa CEO, says: “Bridging the digital divide and narrowing the global skills gap is a complex problem that requires all stakeholders to work together to make the world a more resilient, capable and inclusive place. It has become clear that organisations need to drive transformative change for the betterment of youth and communities; however, smaller organisations also need to be digitally empowered.”

Du Plessis says that, in order to bridge the digital divide from an organisational perspective, the multi-dimensional layers of digital exclusion need to be considered, and a human-centred approach must be adopted.

Muriel Mafico, deputy representative UNICEF South Africa, concurs. “People are at the heart of change and we are more likely to succeed if we keep them at the centre of any solution thinking,” she says. “The triple burden of poverty, unemployment and inequality that disproportionately affects South Africa’s youth impacts their futures, and in turn their mental and physical wellbeing.

“However, with technology as the enabler for human ingenuity and creativity, it can be leveraged effectively to build the digital skills that can unleash the full potential of people and organisations and drive positive change in the lives of those who are currently excluded.”

Jason Bygate, head of innovation, tech and data for development at Capacitate Social Solutions, says: “Many organisations are progressively embracing technology to advance the quality of the services they provide.

“However, too many are lagging behind in an increasingly digital world. We need to see more key stakeholders getting involved to drive integration, collaboration and the digital enabling of smaller organisations to unlock the potential that technology has to accelerate collective impact.”