Photograph — Felicia Ochelle

At the recently concluded Nigeria Digital Economy Summit (NDES), leading international and local investors, experts and policymakers from across the globe gathered to discuss critical issues under the theme “Leveraging Digital Economy for Trade & Investment.”

The event held at Statehouse Banquet Hall, Abuja from November 14 – 15, 2019, highlighted how best to support the growth of a new burgeoning industry as part of the readiness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It also featured an in-depth discussion with the Special Guest Speaker, Mr Jack Ma, co-founder and former executive chairman of the globally renowned Alibaba Group.

Mr Ma shared some insights around the importance of not just the development of a robust digital economy, but how Nigeria can leverage the innovation and creativity of its youthful population. 

“African governments need to support entrepreneurs and empower more young people in order to achieve economic growth,” said Jack Ma, Founder and Director, Alibaba Group.

He also stressed the need to share the mistakes others have made with young entrepreneurs, thus making it easier to solve challenges 

In recent times, NDES has laid the foundations for a renaissance across the continent; one powered by the enormous progress increasingly evident in collaborations with both the federal and state government to develop the different levers. Although this may only be a glimpse of success, it offers an inspiring new vision of a future Africa growing ever stronger through digital transformation. 

According to Mr Raghav Prasad, Divisional President, SSA Region, Mastercard partnerships are the only way to encourage digital growth in Nigeria. He also shed light on practical case studies.

A panel discussion on building governance for a robust digital economy featured panellists from various sectors. Some of which include the Lead Speaker, Grant Johnstone, VP Enterprise Development, Mastercard, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, Honourable Minister, Science and Technology and the honourable Minister, Communications & Digital Economy, Dr Isah Pantami. 

This panel addressed topics such as next-generation partnerships, enabling policy and regulatory environment and next steps towards implementation. After which questions were entertained from the audience and media.

Another major highlight of the summit was the leadership panel discussion titled Digitisation of the ‘Real Economy’ (enabling the drivers of economic growth in Agriculture, Health, Manufacturing and overall SMEs).

Vivian Nwakah of Medsaf;  a technology-enabled medication supply chain management solution for hospitals and pharmacies spoke on enabling the drivers of economic growth in health. “We need to use technology to disrupt the old way of doing things,” said Ms Nwakah. She also shared her journey and mission to help tackle Nigeria’s counterfeit drug crisis.  

Lastly, in considering the road map for a digital government, massive infrastructure needs to be on the ground. Not just that, financial inclusion will help put Africa at the forefront of building an innovation network. This is where the leader in global payments and technology, Mastercard comes in. 

“Financial inclusion is very critical. We at Mastercard made a commitment to reach 500 million people with financial services by 2020,”  said Michael Elliot, Senior Vice President, Strategic Growth, Mastercard. 

He also added that, for sectors such as agriculture, one of the major challenges is access to funds. “Agriculture is a big space. But it also has major challenges. For instance, many women in emerging markets within the sector are faced with high-interest rates,” said Elliot.

Some of the other key issues that were addressed during the summit include harvesting economic potentials of BIG DATA within a secure framework, the economics of cybersecurity and a meeting between traditional sector leaders and leading tech-business startup founders.

The main objective of the NDES is to develop a framework that will help in deepening governance and collaboration between the public and private sectors. This would, in turn, attract more investment for the development of Nigeria’s Digital Economy.  In addition, it will kickstart the development of Nigeria’s Digital Transformation Roadmap.

Supported by Mastercard, Facebook and the Government of Sweden including the Swedish Institute, a representative of the Swedish private sector; the Summit focused on how to galvanise local collaboration and investment from within the traditional sector into the rapidly growing Start-up Ecosystem.

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