More than 400 years ago, an English philosopher called Francis Bacon coined the phrase ‘knowledge is power’. Fast-forward a few centuries and the phrase is still relevant. The internet has made knowledge more accessible than ever before, increasing the potential of people all over the globe to come up with life-changing ideas and execute them successfully. Centuries ago, so much knowledge must have died with those who held it if they didn’t pass their findings and ideas on to family members or successors. Today, the Internet keeps a record of everything from age-old discoveries to new digital ideas and open source software. If you’re connected to the Internet, you are connected to knowledge and the potential to create something new and impactful is endless. Today, we can safely say that technology is power.
Like all power, technology can be used for good or evil. Online scammers can convince people to part with their life’s savings and hackers can hold companies at ransom just for fun. On the good side, people can connect with loved ones far away, build businesses and develop new skills, and help those in need. Sure, there are people sharing cat videos and playing mindless games enabled by technology, but there are also lots of people using technology to make a truly valuable impact in the world. Many South Africans are part of those in the world using innovation and tech to solve important challenges. Below are two examples of organizations addressing issues in health and education on the continent.
Iyeza Express: Uber for Health
Sizwe Nzima grew up in Khayelitsha. Both his grandparents suffered from diabetes, and he was tasked with collecting and administering their medication. This meant waiting in long queues to receive the medicine, and then translating the dosage instructions, which were always written in English, for his grandparents. Rather than complain about the system and the government not moving fast enough to make improvements in the health sector, Sizwe considered what he could do about it. This is how Iyeza Express was born – a company that delivers medication to people who cannot get to clinics.
Sizwe started by employing a few people on bicycles to take scripts to pharmacies and clinics and deliver the medication to patients. As the demand grew, he developed a system to record when each customer required their prescriptions to be filled out so he could deliver new meds before the previous dosage was complete. New customers could send a quick SMS to be registered and start using the service.
Sizwe is also passionate about the fight against HIV/AIDS, as South Africa still has the highest HIV positive infection rate in the world. People aren’t getting tested because of the stigma associated with the illness, or because they don’t think they’ve been infected. So the business expanded to deliver HIV self-tests discretely, straight to customers’ homes.
To address the requirement of medical consultation which comes with HIV tests, Iyeza developed a Mobile Health platform with relevant details for telephonic consultations, and video content about health management.
Sizwe’s business then branched into family planning by delivering contraceptives to women. The Pill Squad ensures contraceptive medication is delivered to customers’ doors every 28 days so women don’t miss a pill because they forgot to go into a pharmacy.
Iyeza, now nicknamed as Uber for Health, delivers medication to more than 2000 people in Khayelitsha and plans to extend throughout South Africa. The workload at local clinics is now alleviated because fewer people come in to queue for their medicine, and the sick and elderly don’t have to make what can be a stressful visit to the clinic for chronic medication.
The Click Foundation: Improving Education
Did you know that 78% of learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning by the time they reach Grade 4? Do you know how crucial it is to read and comprehend material by the time you get to Grade 4? Grades 1 to 3 are all about learning to read, but after that, it’s all about reading to learn.
We can point fingers at the education department, or send our children to private school if we can afford it. But that isn’t realistic for most South Africans, and it doesn’t solve the problem. The Click Foundation uses technology to address the education crisis in a meaningful and impactful way.
Reading Eggs is an online reading programme designed to improve foundation phase literacy skills. Visual and audio instruction in the form of games and activities allow children to learn at their own pace, with very little after-hours facilitation from overworked and under-resourced teachers.
Funding comes from corporate and other sponsors, which assists in getting computers and the Reading Eggs programme into schools where learners are struggling with literacy. In 2012, 846 learners were part of the programme but today more than 41 000 learners across the country are benefitting from Reading Eggs.
The online programme means children aren’t just learning to read; they’re also becoming comfortable with computers from an early age. Since technology forms the foundation of most of the professional world, this kind of learning is key for those who want to thrive in a digital world.
Both Iyeza and The Click Foundation have technology on their side, and they’re using it to make a major and positive impact on those who need it most. Whether it’s in health, education or agriculture, have you considered how your business can use tech to make a difference on the African continent?