African innovations changing lives
WRITTEN BY: Ntokozo Khumalo
In recent years a number of African inventions and innovations have emerged to benefit millions of poor people on the continent – particularly in the farming sector.
More than 90 million people living in rural areas in Africa depend on agriculture for their livelihood, but outdated methods of farming means productivity remains stationery.
New innovations specially focusing on farming have been introduced in the past few years and already small scale farmers across the continent are seeing a change in their lives.
The Wonderbag is a heat retention/insulation cooker that needs no kitchen. It cooks meals while saving energy, the perfect accessory for any women on the continent, especially those living in rural areas and have limited access to electricity.
Although the Wonderbag heat-retention is universally applicable, its creator, Natural Balance SA, was one of South Africa's first social enterprises. It purposely focused on introducing the Wonderbag to countries and communities with high poverty rates when it launched in 2008.
The bag is South Africa’s first programmatic Construction Design Management(CDM) project being registered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
For the poor of the continent to even consider owning a Wonderbag, they have to have food to cook in the first place. In areas like Kenya and Uganda, where floods and droughts are an often occurrence, farmers often voice out the need for some sort of protection.
Weather Index Agriculture Insurance
Kenya was one of the first countries to introduce Weather Index Agriculture Insurance, which protects farmers from crop failure or animal deaths arising from bad weather.
The plan means that even in situations of crop failure, farmers with insurance will be compensated, cushioning them from adverse food shortages.
The first of the agricultural insurance products was rolled out in 2009 and saw the birth of similar products. The weather-index agriculture insurance is expected to motivate banks to increase their lending preference to the agriculture sector.
New Software for Farmers
But what happens after the farmers have been protected and have enough stock for their families but also to sell in the market? How do they resolve market woes which are likely to come up every so often in Africa’s informal markets?
This is where Dr Raymond Rugemalira comes in. He is the man that pioneered “Uza Mazao” or “Sale Produce” in Swahili.
Uza Mazao enables farmers and farm produce buyers to meet in a virtual market through SMS text messaging. It has been developed from a real-time crop monitor that existed together with a real-time pandemic monitor and is aimed at creating a meeting point for buyers and sellers.
The software requires users to subscribe so they can send requests to sell or purchase to the operator.
Subscription to the service is free and can be accessed from a personal computer or a mobile phone, with users charged less than a dollar to make a request once the service is fully operational.
More than 3,000 Kenyan farmers are already registered to the service.
Small Business Heads for Big Business Status With Mobile Money
Small businesses on the continent are revolutionising the way they operate - and are always looking at technology to provide ways of reaching a larger market.
The introduction of mobile money came just in time, as borders are slowly disappearing, and more young professionals work outside their home country to make more money. In doing so, they need a service that will help them send money back home quick and easy.
Mobile Money is usually marketed as a way for workers in urban settings to send money home and support their family. But it is a product that also provides a faster, safer, traceable, long distance way to transfer funds.
Potential uses include supporting children away at school, paying domestic staff, contributing to group saving schemes and storing money for safe keeping.
Small businesses and entrepreneurs are not being left on the sidelines. They use mobile money as a key part of their company operations, with many reporting time and cost savings due to the use of mobile payments and considerable efficiency improvements in logistical and customer service stemming from this new medium.
Mobile Money was first introduced in Kenya by telecommunications giant Safaricom, but has spread its wings across the continent with other retail giants such as Vodacom applying it in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”