The use digital technology has become an integral part of the global economy in the past few decades. New technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing and others have become the key drivers in business transformation process. Digital technology is affecting all aspects of life.
It has affected the way value is even created and exchanged. Our way of interacting, learning, working, trading and receiving services across the globe has been significantly affected by digital technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left institutions and businesses no other means of building resilience and optimizing value than by the use of digital technologies in delivering competitive business models. The result of this is the explosive demand for online products which has in turn opened a plethora of new opportunities for digital entrepreneurs.
Who are digital entrepreneurs?
Digital entrepreneurs are those entrepreneurs who rely more on digital technology in generating, and delivering their products. They either create digital businesses or adopt digital technologies to: improve business operations; invent new business models; sharpen business intelligence; and engage with stakeholders.
Every sector of the Ghanaian economy, be it agriculture and extractive, manufacturing, or services could be transformed through the use digital technology. Therefore, the business opportunities within the digital space for entrepreneurs to explore are almost limitless.
Digital entrepreneurship if properly harnessed, could be a vital ingredient to economic growth and development because of its ability to create net employment growth and enhance the competitiveness and productivity of an economy.
What are the recent interventions in the digital space?
Ghana has in the past years chalked some successes within the digital space. Some of these feats include, but are not limited to; the introduction of GPS address system, the enactment of laws to protect the digital space and the launching of digital platforms to improve service delivery in some public institutions.
These interventions have been very helpful and timely. However, a fragmented implementation of digital projects which does not feed into an integrated national digital strategy will risk us failing to capture real value that may accrue from the use of digital technologies.
A comprehensive digital strategy, which reflects the multiple and interlinked dimensions of the country’s relevant economic areas, must be developed and implemented. This will make it easier for entrepreneurs and institutions align their strategies accordingly.
Ghana has also in recent years used the print and electronic media to raise some level of awareness about the use of digital technology. Digitalization has now become more of a national slogan. Making “digitalization”, a national slogan may create some level of awareness and raise some level of consciousness.
However, it may not produce much result if it is not properly aligned with the broader national agenda of economic freedom and prosperity. To improve and adequately embrace the use of digital technology for economic prosperity, Ghana is required to appropriately consider developing a more holistic approach to its digital economy development by adopting a coordinated, transformative, homegrown and inclusive digital strategy to create real value whilst mitigating issues related to its associated risks.
How do we achieve a desirable digital entrepreneurship potential?
Ghana’s ability to achieve a desirable digital entrepreneurship potential will depend to a large extent on its ability to invest in the foundational elements of its digital economy while mitigating exclusion, fraud and cyber risk. Ghana is required to invest strategically in the basic elements of its digital economy in order to build the requisite capacity and leverage on the global digital intelligence to create business opportunities its citizens
Digital infrastructure is a key component of these foundational elements. If the digital infrastructure is weak then entrepreneurs would have limited opportunities in accessing digital technology to develop competitive business models. Investment in digital infrastructure is likely to create many new economic opportunities which can help improve economic and social outcomes and be a force for innovation, productivity and growth. Ghana can employ the use of digital technology to address many of its ‘legacy challenges’ including leakages, corruption and unemployment.
We must consolidate initiatives and targeted outcomes to build a more robust digital infrastructure to enable digital entrepreneurship thrive. A robust digital infrastructure including good connectivity provides the avenue for individuals, businesses, and institutions to get online, and connect with local and global digital services with minimum interruption. Access to digital connectivity should be very inclusive, safe and affordable.
Again, digital entrepreneurship is likely to thrive when there are adequate funds to support and help entrepreneurs scale up at different stages of their growth. In Ghana, access to capital by start-ups remains a key challenge. Commercial banks in Ghana are still glued to the traditional way of lending (i.e. requesting for assets collateral and past business performance).
This makes it very difficult for start-ups to access debt instruments to maximizing their growth potential. The government must execute policies that aim at making funds available for digital entrepreneurs to access whilst reducing the cost of doing business when using digital means.
Ghana should ensure that national policies, especially fiscal policies are very flexible and progressive enough to support entrepreneurial activities within the digital space. The cost of transacting business on digital platforms should not be higher than transacting the same business using physical means.
Individuals and businesses should not spend more than what is required just by choosing to transact businesses on digital platforms. Such a practice is likely to erode the gains already made within the digital space. It may also discourage entrepreneurial activities within the digital space.
Lastly, the human capital of our nation must be fed with the requisite knowledge and apply must themselves accordingly within the global digital space. Our educational system should be properly structured to inspire creativity and innovation to solve real societal problems.
Students should not only be assessed based on their ability to memorize lecture notes and manuals but also how they are able to apply such knowledge in solving societal problems and creating value especially within the digital space. Students should be trained to question assumptions and have a discovery mindset – being flexible and resilient in the midst of change.
Ghana needs to be very deliberate about inculcating practical knowledge in digital technologies within our education system at all levels, especially at the tertiary and professional levels. Professional examining bodies must be encouraged and equipped to include practical applications of digital skills within their space as part of the mandatory requirements for assessing their students and members.
The digital skills may include the use of technological skills and business skill in solving real problems within the individual’s line of profession. Should Ghana achieve a greater digital literacy, there would be wide use of digital products and services among the larger population.
We are in a world that will continue to evolve. Those who are able to adapt and subsequently excel, are those who know themselves, in terms of their skills, interests and strengths and are able to use such to create value.
The writer is a Chartered Accountant.