This is an exclusive interview with the World Wide Web (WWW) Foundation by See Africa Differently. With their permission we have republished the interview below. You can read the original post here.
Over the last 15 years the rate and continued pace of innovations in web and mobile technology has been amazing across Africa. With creativity, social good and entrepreneurship at the core, we have seen the rapid uptake in mobile and internet change lives.
We have been fortunate enough to interview to Steve Bratt Chief Exec of the World Wide Web foundation on what he believes have been the major changes over the last 15 years and the exciting potential innovation and creativity will bring in the future.
The WWW foundation has a vision that all people should have the ability – and even the right – to use a free, open and increasingly-powerful Web to improve their world. Founded by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, the Foundation is a non-profit organization that explores and scales innovative approaches that aim to make the Web accessible and valuable to everyone on the planet.
How would you describe the spread of mobile and internet technology across Africa over the last 15 years?
15 years ago, both mobile telephony and Internet usage were luxuries in Africa. Both communication technologies have spread across the continent, but the use of mobile phones is most dominant. Even in 2005, there were about 12 mobile subscriptions and 2 Internet users per 100 Africans. By 2010 the numbers were close to 50 mobile subscribers and 11 Internet users per 100.
And in that time what do you think has been the real turning point in Africa’s mobile and internet story?
I'm not sure this story has reached the real turning point yet. The power that the Web can provide to people to address challenges in their communities is so vast, yet so few in Africa have this power. What if every person with a mobile phone (in Africa or elsewhere) could browse the Web, create content and access services using just their voice. The Web Foundation and our partners are working on testing technology for "voice browsing". This would open the power that the Web provides to people with even the simplest phones, no data plans, low literacy and disabilities (such as vision impairment).
Social networks proved a pivotal platform in getting 1st hand accounts out of Africa in 2011. From elections in Nigeria to the Arab spring in North Africa. How do you think social networks will help Africa create its own narrative?
Services like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube played critical roles both in helping people to organize and in communicating the situations on the ground in real time. These were Africa narratives being played-out over technology built primarily in the North. I'm excited about the potential explosion of applications built by native African geniuses that address challenges including jobs, healthcare, education, nutrition, access to finance, security, etc.
Can you tell us about entrepreneurship labs in Accra, Nairobi and Senegal?
The Web Foundation, with funding from Vodafone, the European Commission and the World Bank/InfoDev, established these labs in 2011 and 2012 in order to give brilliant Africa developers and business people the tools to create enterprises valued Web applications that work on mobile devices. Such tools include training on technologies such as HTML, SMS, and user interface design. But more is needed to maximize the entrepreneur's probability of sustained success. Business training is critical, as is access to capital to get businesses started. We also provide a supportive community for entrepreneurs as well as businesses (such as telecommunications operators). Long-term mentoring to help address problems that arise on the technical and business side is also an important part of the labs. Out of our first graduating classes have come mobile applications that provide agricultural advice, tourism information, domestic abuse reporting, digital business card sharing, and tens of additional services. Which of these will be the next Facebook or eBay? We'll need to wait and see.
What 3 words sum up a modern, progressive Africa to you?
Mobile. Creative. Genius