Diversity 'energising' SA tech growth

2015-11-23 12:47 - Duncan Alfreds
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Tumi Chamayou of Ericsson says local solutions should be important for start-ups. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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Cape Town – Race and gender diversity in the technology industry is adding new energy to startups and business models, says an industry player.

“What is exciting for me is that the diversity is also not about colour and creed, it’s also about class. Now we also start to hear the voices of the underprivileged – voices of those that were not previously included,” Tumi Chamayou, Vice President and head of Strategy, Marketing and Communications at Ericsson Sub Sahara Africa told Fin24.

Chamayou has experience in the startup scene in South East Asia, Europe and the US and said that her return to SA had been prompted by the local need to develop efficient digital solutions.

She said that diversity was increasing in the local tech space.

“We are not at the most diverse period in history. More and more you’re starting to see women participating in ICT; you’re starting to see a more diverse group of people participating in the technology story.”

“That is allowing more innovative solutions; more innovative type of thinking whereas before, yes, it was a white male environment,” she added.

READ: Concern over lack of women in SA tech

Economic driver

Internationally, just 2% of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter employees are black, and women make up 30% of Google employees, but that includes jobs in non-tech positions where women make up nearly half (48%) of employees.

“Diversity brings about a new voice; it brings heard voices – these voices also get an ear – and people start to listen and people start to act on these ideas to create more efficiencies,” said Chamayou.

Tech startups are an economic driver and a survey by Sage revealed that in SA, SMEs contributed nearly R530bn to gross domestic product with 51% of owners working more than 40 hours per week.

But answers for local startups won’t come from developed markets, said Chamayou, despite the success of platform such Facebook and Google.

“I see Silicon Valley more as an inspirational story: I don’t see that when you talk about innovation that this is where the answers for Africa are going to come from.”

She highlighted applications such as locally developed Mxit which emerged as a tool for people to save costs on SMSes.

“Before the big data story came, there used to be the text story. Mxit thought ‘How do I take the cost of a text and bring it down to a micro-cost?’

“They [Mxit] found a niche for them and this then moved from teenagers into the mainstream.”

New ideas

New technology solutions have the potential to shift society forward if ideas from previously excluded people are absorbed into innovation, said Chamayou.

“This is a new era: Ideas don’t just sit with those that are learned.”

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