Orange: digital transformation in Africa

By Amber Donovan-Stevens

Business Chief caught up with Asma Ennaifer, Chief External Relations, CSR and Innovation officer for Orange, to discuss the progress of the Orange Digital Centre

Orange is one of the largest global telecommunications operators in the world, and is recognised for its expertise in the field of innovation. With over 5,000 employees across its international research labs, the “Orange Digital Centre” in Tunis, Tunisia was launched in April 2019. Providing a wide range of activities, the Orange Digital Centre is a support system for startups and offers training to young people, with its unveiling recognised as the first of its kind in the Middle East and Africa.

Asma Ennaifer, Chief External Relations, CSR and Innovation Officer for Orange, has held these roles for almost 10 years. “From training young people in coding, prototyping to startup support, acceleration and finally investment in budding entrepreneurs, these new sites are intended for all kinds of different people,” she says. The Orange Digital Centre has four strategic programs which target various types of individuals, such as:

1. The coding school

The coding school is a facility that is free of charge. It is aimed at students, young graduates and young entrepreneurs.

2. The FabLab Solidaire

This is a digital workshop that allows users to create prototypes and leverage 3D printers, milling machines and laser cutters. The centre is open to all young people regardless of their educational background.

3. Orange Fab

Orange Fab is a startup accelerator that is designed to build upon relationships with the Orange Group. This program is tailored toward entrepreneurs to assist them with the development of management skills, and commercial capabilities within startups.

4. Orange Digital Ventures Africa

This is a $55.6mn investment fund for startups in the Middle East and Africa. This program is also aimed at entrepreneurs.


Tunisia: an emerging digital hub

Ennaifer believes Africa is a lucrative region to export fintech to. “Africa is a virgin area for the fintech market,” affirms Ennaifer. “In fact, the fintech landscape has grown at an annual rate of approximately 24% over the last 10 years. If we compare it with the developed region, the African continent must become more digitalised, so that the fintech market will grow. This makes it a very attractive market to invest in.”

Ennaifer notes that technological leapfrogging in Africa has led Orange to fight digital exclusion and pushed the company to provide accessible innovations to the largest number of people through “inclusive innovation,” across the 19 countries in the Middle East and Africa where it operates. When cementing the success of Orange’s new programs, Ennaifer emphasises: “The success of digital transformation inevitably relies on inclusion!” Orange has established partnerships with 27 universities in Tunisia throughout the country and has deployed five subsidiaries of coding school - the “Orange Tech Clubs” - in universities in the regions of Kef, Sousse, Nabeul, Tunis and Sfax. “With the support of the Orange Foundation, Orange has deployed five FabLabs Solidaires, including one mobile FabLab, with the aim of covering the entire territory,” she explains. “Thanks to these programs, Orange Tunisia was able to accompany and train more than 16,000 young students in the coding school.”

Creating opportunities for young people

Young people are important for Orange, and reinforcing young people’s preference for Orange is crucial for Orange’s business. “Youth unemployment is a worrying problem worldwide,” explains Ennaifer. “According to the World Bank, the global youth unemployment rate in 2017 was around 13.4%. The majority of African countries are struggling with significantly higher rates (e.g. Tunisia 36.3%; Ivory Coast 25%).” Ennaifer points to the fact that young adults in higher education are facing the same unemployment rates, yet the services offered by the Digital Centre will assist in combating this issue. “The Orange Digital Centre is the place where the youth can be trained to get ready for their first job or professionally reconvert if needed,” she explains. “They also can develop their ideas by putting at their disposal machines that are not affordable, and also coaches to accompany them.”

Yet despite a large pool of potential recruits, Ennaifer shares that the initiative has struggled to reach a maximum of young people, and in particular in girls. “At launch, the coding school existed only in the capital. We were quickly solicited by the universities with whom we enter into partnerships to provide training on the latest technological trends.” With a determination to overcome this challenge, the is centre pushed to encourage younger girls to take an interest in ICT through the international competition Technovation where they would compete with girls from all over the world. “This collaborative approach helps to create an entrepreneurial dynamic, generate new ideas and incubate innovative startups. The project will thus contribute to building local digital ecosystems outside the capital.”

Looking ahead

“Orange’s objectives of supporting inclusive economic development, youth employment, and to accelerate Africa’s digital transformation are in line with the development goals formulated in the Agenda 2030.” As Orange employs 18,000 people in Africa and the Middle East, which are mostly locally recruited and trained, the Group has a direct interest in creating local “pools” of well-trained young people.

According to Ennaifer, the challenges of the future for Orange aren’t related to the size of a country, but the economic and political climates. This is because the economy of the country needs to be able to support those trained to enter the market as both the public and private sector are involved. “As Orange continues to build on the Orange Digital Centre, its expanding network will allow the exchange of experience and expertise between the beneficiaries to address international markets,” she concludes.


For more information on business topics in the Middle East and Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief MEA.

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