The BPO Value Proposition for Africa

Am on the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANET), a multi-stakeholder discuss list and Mr. Waudo asked “Thanks to PS Ndemo for bringing this out. As for Wafula’s question, the work force survey undertaken by the CSK earlier this year revealed that there is very little linkage between what the ICT training institutions (including Universities) are producing and the requirements of the industry either now or in the foreseeable future. Certainly there appear
to be no mechanisms to facilitate such linkage. Perhaps something could be done now before we find ourselves in India’s position?”. Below is my intervention;

We all know that one of the demons that has held back Africa’s rise is the DE-LINK between industry and academia (research) and also with governments. Prof. Ernest Wilson’s (of Maryland University) squad model makes the argument that you need a constant interaction between these constituencies for growth and innovation to take place. He argues that Silicon Valley is a clear example.

My proposition therefore as a way to answer the question above is to leverage the BPO opportunity. Most African governments are at least on board the BPO wagon so my idea is, lets establish the BPOs in the University environment given the current public policy favouring. The BPO companys can take advantage of cheap but good student labour whiles they build the real estate for their operations using university land on a “build operate and handover basis”.

The Universities then get real estate which they use for their long term expansion of physical infrastructure. The BPO companies get their work done cheaply and when they migrate in the long term, much value would have being gained. The University students get work experience for the long term job market entry and also interim cash to support their University education. This also gives the non-computer related students some basic skills and exposure and for the CS, EE etc students, they build their internal capacity not only to take calls and do word processing but more technical stuff. They would soon be writing software for those BPO companies. Mostly importantly this becomes the nucleus of the government/academia/private sector LINKINING which would grow into other areas.

Hence the value proposition of the BPO banwagon is, it gives us a foot into the door but we must move up the value chain very quickly or we would end up doing the low end jobs which would make us less competitive in the Knowledge economy.

When I proposed this to my Ghana Cyber Group friend (Yaw Owusu, leading the way with a private TechPark in Ghana) whom i have cced on this mail, he said, then the Tech Parks (BPOs + more) should be in the University/Research Environment and his example of been able to acquire land from the Ghana CSIR which is close to the University of Ghana would be a good prototype.

This is the story am going to be telling at the the first University Leaders Forum in Cape Town to which governments, academic leadership, private sector and Civil Society has being convened.

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