Smart City Technology Can Positively Boost An Economy

By Joao Zoio and Kennedy Mogotsi

The adoption of sustainable technologies poses a challenge for policymakers and professionals. Critical social and economic challenges need addressing. In 2015, countries worldwide adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals recognise that ending world poverty must align with strategies that build economic growth. 

Sustainable development goals need to establish a natural link between the ecological and economic systems. The Agenda for Sustainable Development must address various social needs. Social needs include education, health, social protection, clean cities and job creation. At the same time, making a determined effort to confront and manage environmental pollution and climate change needs a priority. The proverbial plate is full.

As part of South Africa’s efforts in this journey, access to free education for lower-income communities has served over 9 million children attending no-fee schools. Support for early childhood education has significantly increased. Every South African child will be provided with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device over the next six years. 

Individuals benefiting from the social protection system have significantly increased from 3 million in 1994 to 17,5 million in 2018. South Africa has the most extensive antiretroviral treatment program globally, with more than 4.5 million people in regular treatment.

The National Development Plan (NDP): Vision 2030 – “Our future, make it work” was adopted in 2012 as South Africa’s development journey to a better future. It prioritises job creation, eliminating poverty, reducing inequality and growing an inclusive economy by 2030. 

Government planning systems and processes have integrated sustainable development objectives at the national, provincial, and local levels. With all this effort, how can more be done? Technology must be a key driver in our vision for a better South Africa.

According to the World Economic Forum (2020), cities worldwide are increasingly implementing smart solutions to tackle, amongst others, citizen safety, affordable housing, water resource management and renewable energy resources. In South Africa, we need a targeted, tech-driven approach to address unemployment, education and inequality.

Tech is driving change for good in other nations battling similar economic challenges to South Africa.

Tech initiatives doing good.

Fintech solutions drive financial inclusion in lower-income areas. It delivers financial services to underserved customers, empowering them to manage their finances more efficiently and grow their wealth.

According to a world bank article published on 20 April 2020, “countries with deeper, more developed financial systems achieve higher economic growth and faster poverty reduction and income equality”. The same article reports that Sub-Saharan Africa is a leader in the mobile money space. Fintech in Africa allows e-commerce merchants to deliver services like lending, insurance, and ‘pay-as-you-go’ solar energy to lower-income areas.

In partnership with the UK, Malawi pioneered the world’s first 3D printed school. A media release from reported: “the school was built in Malawi’s Salima district (pop. 38,000), and its walls were printed in just 18 hours, compared to several days with conventional building materials”. 

Technology like this can change the trajectory of a nation for generations to come. 

Technology has the power to create hope and inspire. It is the catalyst for lifting nations out of poverty and bridging the divide across multiple socio-economic areas like education, health, sanitation and service delivery.

Smart city technology pulls it all together.

Smart Cities are powerful conduits for positive change that pull the different facets of societal challenges into one place for problem resolution. Smart cities educate, empower and uplift citizens across job creation, education, safety and health. They invite citizens to be actively involved in managing their cities. They use sophisticated data and analytics to make better decisions. 

Like My Smart City, innovative city platforms promote transparency and give citizens a voice. At the same time, they tap into the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor infrastructure, mobility of citizens and vehicles, air and water quality and much more. Smart City platforms act like a hub where all city activities get plugged in. Citizens have the luxury of direct communication with their local municipality about service delivery issues and, at the same time, can book a ticket to the theatre or promote their business.

There is no need for multiple app downloads to access different sectors of your city. It is all centralised and available through smart city technology. Municipalities integrate into smart city platforms. The technology improves their efficiencies and expands their reach into areas where mobile technology is the only gateway to smart city living.

This innovation boosts economic activity, creates jobs, and bridges the chasm between the haves and have nots by creating a plethora of new possibilities. 

The data retrieved from a platform like My Smart City provides unparalleled insight that leads to better planning, job creation, safety and health care. Smart Cities build relationships between all stakeholders, including public, private, business and informal sectors.

According to an article posted on Zigurat, Smart Cities accounted for one-quarter of global IoT projects in 2018.

The mayor of Maputo in Mozambique launched the Open Data roadmap for transparency and accountability. This data has resulted in seven urban planning initiatives laying a solid foundation for a well-planned city. 

Ecuador has tackled sexual harassment issues in Quito’s transport system by implementing a smart city project called Bájale al Acoso. Citizens can use instant reporting via SMS for any sexual harassment issues. They want to lead a dynamic cultural change to create a safe and inclusive public transport system.

Further abroad, Singapore uses technology to harness data to improve service and economic value through private and public sector partnerships. This initiative will assist with better decision making for an array of projects, including health and improved quality of life for the elderly.

Guided by the Ten-Year Innovation Plan, significant progress in science, technology, and innovation has been made, addressing poverty, unemployment, and inequality in South Africa. By implementing an innovation agenda for inclusive development, South Africa harnesses tech solutions to improve access to essential services like water, sanitation, and electricity. In other words, we are moving in the right direction.

Using technology for good is the most practical way to address many economic and societal issues we face in this modern-day digital economy. It creates an ecosystem where all spectrum of citizens can participate. Many hands make light work, so imagine what millions of hands can do.

*Zoio is the CEO of Acumen Software 

*Mogotsi is the COO of Acumen Software

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