On October 15, “Digital Explorers” programme was officially launched in Vilnius, Lithuania. It started with the first batch of 15 thoroughly selected young Nigerian ICT specialists, who will spend the next year in 7 Lithuanian perfect-match ICT companies. Aiming to connect Nigeria and Lithuania for cooperation in information and communication technologies (ICT), “Digital Explorers” programme facilitates career advancement journeys of Nigerian ICT talents, at the same time, giving Lithuanian companies a chance to familiarize with business development opportunities in Africa and peculiarities of attracting international talents.
”Digital Explorers,” financed by the European Commission Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs, is one of the projects at the forefront of a new push by the European Union (EU) to include private sector in fostering sustainable economic growth and highlighting the untapped potential of young ICT talents in Africa. The programme also answers recent calls from EU institutions to empower the private sector for positively shaping Africa-Europe cooperation.
“The fourth industrial revolution and digitalization are already changing our lives whether here in Lithuania, or in Nigeria. Until 2025 nearly a quarter of the global GDP will be created by digital economy or digitalized sectors of the traditional economy. Big data, fintech, artificial intelligence and other technologies could become central to the transformation of public services and enable businesses to reach new markets. To make it a reality, first of all, we need committed leadership. “Digital Explorers” programme, from my point of view, is important precisely because of this. It brings together public, nonprofit and private organizations from Lithuania and Nigeria and looks for innovative ways for exploiting the potential of digitalization. I am sure that this unexpected connection between Nigeria and Lithuania will create added value for all parties involved,” - said Mr. Elijus Čivilis, Vice-minister of Economy and Innovation of the Republic of Lithuania, at the launch event in Vilnius.
Motivated by global outlook and prospects for business development The idea to foster ICT cooperation with the biggest African market Nigeria was born after Lithuanian Africa research and consultancy center “AfriKo” and public agency “Enterprise Lithuania” established a solid partnership with a Nigerian tech park “Ventures Platform.” After other organisations joined the initiative, the concept for “Digital Explorers” was developed and EU financing via the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) secured.
“Digital Explorers” is not limited to attraction of ICT specialists - companies are invited to participate in business missions to Nigeria, to meet potential partners, and to participate in hackathons and other initiatives helping to get familiar with Nigerian and other African markets. For instance, next year, in the course of the programme, participants from Nigeria and ICT specialists from Lithuania will be invited to attend an international hackathon dedicated to innovative fintech solutions.
In total, 7 Lithuanian companies have stepped on-board with “Digital Explorers”: „TeleSoftas“, “Beyond Analysis,” „Ruptela“, „NRD Systems,“ “TransUnion” „iTo” and „Syno International.“
The Chief Executive Officer at “Syno International” Jokke Nurminen notes that “Digital Explorers” programme is attractive for its international outlook and assistance in overcoming bureaucratic hurdles: “We are an international company providing Consumer Data as a Service (CDaaS) to help data-driven organisations make better business decisions, tailored to businesses around the globe. We have offices in London, Helsinki, Singapore, Hanoi, Tokyo, Seoul, Stockholm, Warsaw and Vilnius; thus, it is important for us to have team members, who could understand and adapt to varying demands of clients globally. In addition, by joining “Digital Explorers” we are able to expand international competences at our Vilnius headquarters with less bureaucratic hassle: programme consortium has taken care of employment procedures and logistics, they will also stand next to us throughout the rest of the year,” - notes Mr. Nurminen.
Reacting to the new strategy of the European Union, which highlights the importance of private sector involvement in reshaping EU- Africa partnership, General Director at “Enterprise Lithuania” Mrs. Daina Kleponė believes Lithuania has a lot to offer, since a common digital vision will open new markets for Lithuanian ICT companies.
“This partnership is important for Lithuanian businesses in two regards - strong bonds between markets are being built and a lot of room is offered for ICT business development. African markets are not yet saturated; therefore, Lithuanian ICT companies could provide a number of services, already successfully tried out in other countries. Lithuanian expertise is widely sought in digitalizing public services, securing critical cyber infrastructure, developing mobile products or e-commerce platforms. Exports of ICT services were essential in recent fast-paced growth of the Lithuanian ICT sector and it is obvious that European market is becoming too small for exploiting all of Lithuanian ICT sector’s potential,” - says Mrs.Kleponė.
African ICT Talents in the Spotlight
“Digital Explorers” programme also echoes the most recent priorities of EU - Africa digital partnership. In reaction to suggestions for a new strategy for sustainable investment and job creation in Africa, put forward by the EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, in December 2018, a new joint EU-Africa Union Digital Economy Task Force started its work. Bringing together representatives from different sectors and organizations, in a half-year’s time it drafted a joint vision on how digital technology could become the backbone in redrawing Europe-Africa partnership. These changes in EU political agenda are also relevant for European ICT companies faced with a window of opportunity for discovering African markets and attracting young and motivated ICT specialists to their teams.
In the last 20 years, Africa has experienced a fast-paced growth of internet penetration, reaching from 2,1% in 2005 to 24,4% in 2018. So-called “mobile economy” is also booming and made for 6,7% of the continent's GDP in 2016, equal to 153 billion USD. These impressive numbers are especially relevant for millions of young people entering African labour markets every year. Africa remains the world’s youngest continent with a median age of 19,4 years. In the light of forecasts for continued ICT growth, joint EU- African Union Task Force calls on private ICT companies to make the best out of business opportunities in Africa and in turn help the creation of new jobs on the continent.
By investing in young African ICT specialists, building partnerships with local companies and start-ups, European companies would not only contribute to sustainable economic growth, but would also better situate themselves vis-a-vis global powers and businesses already active in the continent for the past 10-15 years. Bankole Oluwafemi, founder and editor at one of the biggest African tech websites TechCabal.com, agrees with this point of view. According to him, “Digital Explorers” programme gives young Nigerian ICT specialists a chance to challenge themselves in an international environment, working with complex projects and in a short amount of time gaining a lot of valuable experience - without the involvement of the private sector it would be simply impossible. “On the other hand, already for some years Africa has been known as the most dynamic tech region in the world, continuing to grow at a fast pace. Both international corporations and great powers of today have been investing in African talent, including the U.S., Germany, China and Japan. A good example of this is the recently opened Microsoft competence center in Lagos, by 2023 foreseen to employ 500 developers to work with virtual reality and artificial intelligence products. I am sure that “Digital Explorers” will help Lithuania and its ICT companies to discover Nigerian talents already acknowledged on an international level,” - says Mr. Oluwafemi.
In 2019-2020, “Digital Explorers” programme is implemented by a well-equipped consortium including Nigerian tech park “Ventures Platform,” public agency “Enterprise Lithuania,” policy and research non-profit “AfriKo,” ICT trainers “Code Academy,” and mobility experts “Diversity Development Group.”