On Thursday, August 22, 2019, stakeholders convened at the headquarter of Nigerian tech solution company, Softcom, to discuss the role of technology in tackling poverty and driving social change. The conference takes place at a critical time where public and private sector leaders are seeking to tackle the burden of youth unemployment and advance relevant, impactful, and sustainable solutions for access to quality education and poverty eradication.

Some of the stakeholders at the event include Yomi Adedeji, CEO, Softcom; Afolabi Imoukhuede, Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Job creation; Olukayode Pitan, Managing Director, Bank of Industry; Toyin Adeniji, Executive Director, Micro Enterprises, Bank of Industry; Hilda Kragha, CEO, Jobberman; Ernest Umakhihe, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Budget and National Planning; Premier Oiwoh, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS); Dr. Olatunde Adekola, Senior Education Specialist, World Bank Group;  and Tobias Wolfgarten of German GIZ Operations.

The conference began with a welcome address by Yomi Adedeji, talking about the significance of technology in helping to create and bridge access in education, payment, data, and identity, four core areas Softcom’s services are centred on. According to him, these four areas are the basis on which any development initiative would rest.

Next was the keynote address on Shaping Africa’s Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution by Afolabi Imoukhuede, SSA to the President on job creation and youth employment. His address which was in light of the forthcoming World Economic Forum highlighted areas where technology is driving social change and national development. These areas include education, agriculture, financial services, identity systems, and health care. 

“The bane of poverty is education … To combat poverty, we need to improve education. And this goes beyond building infrastructures to improving ICT enabled learning,” he said. “We must work together and leverage technology to create digital ID systems to bridge gaps and improve financial inclusion to combat poverty,” he added.

Imoukhuede also lauded Softcom on its technological expertise in implementing the N-Power project, a direct intervention by the federal government to tackle youth unemployment in Nigeria. He explained that implementing the program via analogue methods would have limited enrolment and training delivery to under 40,000 participants. “However, with the aid of technology, the programme was able to enrol over 500,000 beneficiaries for the graduate and non-graduate programme across 774 local governments in Nigeria,” he said.

Softcom created a transparent, replicable and scalable model of the N-Power Programme that can be adopted across all tiers of government and for all types of development initiatives. “We designed a platform that guaranteed transparent recruitment, and beneficiary verification, which ensured that no ghost worker existed in the N-Power Programme,” Adedeji explained. The platform also enabled effective and seamless multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Olukayode Pitan and Toyin Adeniji of the Bank of Industry (BOI) spoke briefly on Combating Poverty. During his brief session, Mr. Pitan asked three significant questions that should drive the discourse on improving social inclusion and combating poverty; how do we massively empower our people with the skills to take opportunities in our society? What are the skills needed for our people to be able to take advantage of the opportunities in our society? What are these opportunities?

A panel discussion on Social Inclusion and Accelerated Development with Technology as the Driving Force, followed, moderated by Toyosi A. Ogunsiji, CEO Rise Network. The panellists comprised filmmaker, Ishayo Bako; Mr. Pitan of BOI, Jobberman’s Kragha, Mrs Adeniji of BOI, Toyosi Ogunsiji(Moderator), Mr. Imoukhuede, the presidents SSA on job creation and Softcom’s CEO, Adedeji. 

During the panel discussion, Mr. Pitan emphasized that in tackling poverty, the government and stakeholders must focus on creating equitable access, not just access. He also said it is important that stakeholders replicate already existing impactful interventions. Kragha made an important point about formalising artisanship and fixing curriculums in educational institutions to be more practical and aptitude driven. “Inclusive development is a two-way street. Meet people where they are and create what works for them,” she said.

For Mr. Adedeji, stakeholders need to recognize the peculiarities of people, communities and situations to be able to create impactful sustainable solutions. “A one-size-fits-all approach to solving development issues will make little impact and limit sustainability. Individuals function within economic clusters or communities. It is important to take cognisance of these peculiarities in designing an intervention programme,” he said. In closing, Adedeji stressed the need for stakeholders to invest in, and democratise quality education, using technology. 

The conversations at the Softcom conference are necessary to drive an agenda for inclusion, social change, and national development in Nigeria, especially in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals of ending poverty, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

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