When communities are empowered through technology, the economy grows

The South African State is overburdened. It needs constructive private sector partnerships to cope. If not properly managed, the burden could impose a risk to democracy. Increase in unemployment, poverty, inequality and expanding demand for basic services are weighing heavily on the state.

What makes matters worse is that the resources available to the state to tackle these problems are dwindling in an economy that is registering low growth. Unfortunately, the little growth that is recorded is punctuated by a technical recession. The result is that the challenges have almost become a feature of the country’s unhealthy socio-economic fabric that needs to be broken.


For the poor, inequality translates to a lack of access to quality education and healthcare. The often tense political debates about the causes of the problems and possible solutions can easily dampen the nation’s spirit. In some cases, the debates are characterised by a destructive blame game among stakeholders.

While most of these debates are no doubt healthy and necessary, they can also have a demoralising effect, especially when there is too much focus on describing the problems, merely recording government failures and saying little about solutions.

Society and the government should however accept that the state is overburdened and cannot solve all the problems, notwithstanding protestations to the contrary by the ill-informed. This simultaneously presents an opportunity for the private sector to find solutions.

It is not in the interest of the country for the state to be overloaded. In fact, it could be dangerous. In their book “The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State”, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge refer to the impact of an overloaded state. The more responsibility it assumes, the worse it performs them and the angrier the people get, which only makes them demand more.

The explosion of such anger could result in confrontation between citizens and a state that is anxious to maintain order. South Africa shouldn’t have reached that point. Violent service delivery protests which in their wake burden the state with the responsibility to mop up the streets and repair damage, are not a good sign.

The state and the private sector should partner to find solutions to challenges in our society. The need for cooperation has never been greater. The South African state may not have taken too much on its shoulders to the point where it risks total failure. But we have a responsibility to ensure that what we dread doesn’t happen. It’s in ourcollective interest to do so.

It is, of course, tempting for the state to continuously seek to swallow more than it can chew. Those in the state leadership should be reminded of the consequences of swallowing more than you can chew: constipation and puking.

The private sector must, therefore, act to unburden the state. In so doing, it can help South Africa achieve what is envisaged in the country’s national vision – the National Development Plan: building a capable and efficient state.

The private sector is overloaded with technical and innovative capacity, intellectual leadership and global networks that can complement state capabilities. All these should be channelled to tackle some of the challenges in a commercially viable and sustainable manner.

For example, Vodacom’s Connected Farmer digital solution, which is aimed at helping small holder farmers to access real time information about market prices, weather and their entire agricultural value chains.

The cloud-based web and mobile software solution is a product of a collaboration between Vodacom and Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, a German company. Farmers can get all the information they need via SMS.

While the government tackles other challenges in the agricultural sector, such as land reform, negotiating international trade deals and providing seed capital for emerging farmers, the private sector can focus on other areas to ensure that our farmers remain competitive.

Although the focus for this product is small holder farmers who are also the government’s target for assistance, it would be unfair to expect the government to create such products. It would be great if it could, however, we should be realistic in the context of the heavy load the state is already shouldering in many respects. It is therefore important that private sector partnerships are brought to bear to ensure innovation and cooperation.

The same applies to the provision of education and health in the public sector. While the growth of private education and healthcare provision assists in reducing the burden on public sector infrastructure, the truth is that most of our people depend entirely on public facilities. Under such circumstances, reducing the burden of the state means bringing into the public sector the latest innovation to assist in the modernisation of infrastructure.

In the Eastern Cape, Vodacom has partnered with the provincial government to provide a digital solution to manage 5000 sparsely distributed and remote schools. Suddenly, the schools the government had been perceived to have neglected are part of the mainstream.

Now provincial education managers don’t have to undertake site visits to manage issues that can be resolved from a distance through state-of-the-art technology. The solution enables the department to communicate with each school, collect information about the various activities such as attendance, grade tracking and asset management. In addition, the technology allows schools that do not have laboratories to conduct virtual experiments.

The partnership with the Eastern Cape essentially provides education services in a manner that will eliminate inequalities of access to high quality education. It enables an otherwise predominantly rural province to join the most advanced schools in the world who use “edtech” to access lessons tailored to suit the individual learner. This system has revolutionised teaching methods.

It is service delivery mechanisms such as these, as well as the Vodacom’s mHealth Solutions used to capture real time information on medicines stock levels in healthcare facilities, that help lessen the burden on the state. With a centralised mobile system, it also allows healthcare workers to improve their access to patients. They are therefore able to better respond to their needs. This is done through

secure, realtime data collection, information processing, management and reporting, using mobile phones.

The long-term effect of this innovation is that the government’s job of managing the provision of public sector health care is becomes less daunting. The ultimate beneficiary are the millions who depend on government’s provision of healthcare services.

This goes to show that the private sector innovation can help government lessen the burden of the state and help it to perform its functions better. A less burnt out, capable and efficient state is in the interest of all South Africans.

For more information, visit vodacom.co.za.