Facebook has started a youth empowerment programme known as “Icons of Change” that is part of its efforts to encourage those on the platform to inject change.
Facebook’s head of public policy sub-Saharan Africa Kojo Boakye spoke to the Business Daily during the Icons of Change event in Accra, Ghana.
FACEBOOK’s ICONS OF CHANGE HAS BROUGHT YOUNG PEOPLE FROM AROUND THE CONTINENT WHO ARE DOING EXEMPLARY THINGS FOR POSITIVE CHANGE. CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT IT?
Today’s event is an example of Facebook doing what it does best, which is giving young Africans a heart of change in their own countries and across the continent. The programme gives them an opportunity to come together, discuss their work and to learn about the impact they are having in their communities.
The platform provides a chance to learn how to boost their business for those who have small to medium enterprises and also acquire leadership skills.
WHICH PROBLEMS ARE YOU TRYING TO ADDRESS WITH THIS PROGRAMME? WHAT STRIDES ARE YOU INTENDING TO MAKE?
The list of challenges could be quite long. We have people working on general business issues and growing their businesses whether it is provision of meals like we heard from a South African company that provides workers with healthy meals or creating digital skills that are used by brands and media agencies to extend what they are doing.
But we also have groups that are looking at health and education, feeding into entrepreneurship themselves, feeding into agriculture to improve agricultural production and better use of practices.
So it’s a wide range of things that these people on the programme are looking at.
I am happy that Facebook has invested in developer circles, community leadership circles that many of these young leaders belong to and the small businesses that are going to be at the heart of driving the continent’s economies. Young people here have taken the opportunity created by that investment.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE AREAS THAT FACEBOOK IS LOOKING TO PARTNER WITH LOCAL COMMUNITIES THROUGH THIS PROGRAMME TO EMPOWER YOUNG PEOPLE?
Some of the areas that we are looking to invest in and give young people the opportunities are the developer circles. We are extremely infused and happy that the developer circles have gone from zero to more than 40 across various countries in Africa and have more than 50,000 young developers and wannabe developers. If you talk to numerous policy makers, private sector companies and civil society organisations across the continent, they are asking where Africa’s place be in the fourth industrial revolution, how we will navigate the digital economy that characterise the world now.
I think giving developers of applications and services the opportunity to take advantage of the digital world is really important.
What we also know at Facebook is how important community leaders are. Many of the young people in the programme are part of the community leadership circles which has given them a chance to influence real change in their communities. I think that’s where Facebook’s role is best placed.
HOW MANY COMMUNITY LEADERS AND ORGANISATIONS ARE ON BOARD? AND HOW DID YOU SELECT THEM?
Here today we have 40 icons of change and we use the United Nations’ definition of young. Some of them are as old as 35 and some as young as 19. They are selected from those who have been approved to be leaders in the programme: I have mentioned developer circles, community leadership circles and the SMB training that we have done across the continent. We have assessed them and brought them together. They have proved to be fantastic.
ARE YOU CONFIDENT THAT YOU'LL ACHIEVE EVERYTHING YOU'VE SET OUT TO?
I think we are part of the way there. What did we set out to do? We set out to invest in communities and enable young Africans who will drive this continent forward to take opportunity and create bigger communities. We have achieved that.
About 50,000 young people are now involved in the developer circles and we have trained more than 40,000 small and medium businesses.
We are having the young icons of change become real leaders in their respective communities. This event is evidence that we are part of the way there. We can invest and create opportunities but I think a lot of credit has to go to the icons of change who are here and what we hope to be many icons of change that will follow.
This is just the inaugural event that brings these people together. The hope is that the opportunities created by Facebook are taken by even more people. We know that one iconic person can be an instigator of change.
WHERE ARE WE NOW AS AFRICA IN TERMS OF ENGAGING THE YOUNG PEOPLE?
Many governments and leaders, especially those I speak to, are eager and desperate to engage with young people to understand exactly what they need. And I think they also understand that the steps they are taking now are for young people.
I think if governments set policy frameworks and environments that create opportunities where companies like Facebook can invest, then young people more than those I have seen here will seize them.
WHAT HAVE BEEN MOST SURPRISING ASPECTS OF WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE IN THIS PROGRAMME?
I am not surprised by the vigour and the energy I have witnessed. I am surprised by one thing; I have probably slowed down in my increasing number of years and ageing.
I am not surprised by the energy, intellect, the fast for knowledge opportunity. I am not surprised by the level of confidence that I have seen in these young people about the future where they are going. I am not surprised in how they are using Facebook and applications to build communities and reach people in their countries and across regions. Very little surprise me so far.
WHERE HAS FACEBOOK FALLEN SHORT IN REFERENCE TO THIS PROGRAMME? WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL PITFALLS?
I question where we have fallen short. I would say that this is a great beginning and the young people have already said it is a good start. I would leave it to others to give us a grading. I’m very positive about what we have done so far. Whether there are gaps or whether we have done really well I much prefer my young colleagues I met here to grade us.
INTERNET ACCESS IS STILL A BIG CHALLENGE IN AFRICA. HOW FAR IS FACEBOOK'S PROGRAMME TO REDUCE THE DIGITAL GAP AND INCREASE ACCESSIBILITY?
I think we have come a long way. It’s Facebook’s effort but always done in partnerships with other stakeholders. Not just in partnership with mobile operators but also with governments.
When governments create policy and regulatory environments that facilitate our investments to us, that is great partnership.
It creates an environment that enables us to go in and invest with our partners. I think where mobile operators have decided that the development of open access fibre networks works for the country and helps reduce the cost of investing in broadband connectivity and will work with Facebook, we’ve gone a long way to doing that.
You can look at our investments in Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria and across many other countries; we have gone a long way.
Many mobile operators have partnered with us to bring more people online but a lot still needs to be done. There are other countries whose regulatory environment are not conducive to our investments.