Digitising ubuntu to solve problems
What do you teach an international audience, many of whose members are from developed countries, about using technology to solve social problems in Africa?
Yanesh Naidoo, of Jendamark Automation, used a recent opportunity to give a lesson in concepts which are uniquely African — such as the networking culture and ubuntu — and digitising them to make a social difference.
Naidoo was speaking at the UN Investment Enterprise and Development Commission in Geneva, Switzerland, last week as a panellist on the topic of “structural transformation, industry 4.0 and inequality”.
Naidoo is the director of sales, design and digital strategy at Jendamark, a global automation firm which was started in Port Elizabeth.
It also has a manufacturing facility in India and a sales presence in Europe and North America.
As a company which operates in developing countries and designs and builds machines that are exported to developed countries, Jendamark has a view of both and has identified where there are gaps, Naidoo says.
So when it was his turn to speak to international industry players on Wednesday last week, Naidoo said he wanted to show leadership from a South African perspective.
“There were four other speakers before me ... and what I wanted to prepare is not a sad story of how far behind we are, because I expected the four before to speak about that about Africa, and they did.
“They spoke about the gaps we had in technology. They spoke about inequality and the huge gap between rich and poor.
“They painted a gloomy picture of South Africa, which is true — you can’t argue the facts of the points.
“I wanted to make sure we show some leadership from an African perspective, particularly from a PE factor.
“So, rather than focusing on the issues and challenges, I said there’s some unique things that we have in SA that others perhaps don’t have. And that is networking.
“We have [had], for hundreds of years, a networking culture.
“If you want to fit tyres on your car, you phone a friend and you see if you can get a discount.
“It’s across the board, across races. We’ve got this ability to network.
“We also have ubuntu. We don’t work alone. We [always] have been a social nation, a social continent.
“So, how do we use that skill and ability to network to resolve our problems using these new technologies?” Naidoo said.
“So, what I was proposing is digitising ubuntu. I gave some examples of that. Uber is a perfect example of that.
“What Uber has done is digitally connect experts — from Google Maps to Amazon web services to taxi drivers to the payment services to app stores.
“So, they’ve basically been able to connect all of these tech services to provide transport services.
“That’s an example of how you can collaborate with each other to solve a problem digitally.
“The concept has solved a lot of issues without people owning a car.
“So, it’s about thinking in an ecosystem way to resolve issues and I think we have that as Africans.”
Jendamark has bought shares in an education system called Omang.
It is a pilot system being rolled out in the Free State that supplies digital text books to about 2,000 pupils.
“The [owner of the company] has created an ecosystem where he’s connected the textbook suppliers digitally,” Naidoo said.
“He’s brought MTN on board, which provides connectivity to these Huawei devices that the children are using and he’s basically created a network by using the experts in creativity that all connects together and allows children to have access to these textbooks, which they never had before.
“Grey College in Bloemfontein have said the children can have access to all their content which is all their curriculum that is over and above the government’s requirements.
“So, you can see the value of the ecosystem,” Naidoo said.
Jendamark is also in talks with a start-up company, which Naidoo was reluctant to name at this stage, about integrating its absenteeism application with Jendamark’s Odin software.
Odin is a software which drives efficiencies on production lines, giving firms tools to manage every aspect of their manufacturing and assembly process.
The idea is to have the system built into Odin that should someone be absent on the production line, it would immediately make contact with other staff to stand in, or alert an emergency contact to ensure the production downtime is minimal, Naidoo said.