Tech Companies See Big Opportunity in an ‘Undercounted and Underestimated’ Africa

June 4, 2019, 10:25 AM UTC

For companies and investors eager to profit from Africa’s innovation revolution, there’s one key thing to keep in mind: The world’s second-most populated continent is far from monolithic.

“It’s so often that when we discuss Africa, we don’t get the granularity of the diversity of the region,” said Nunu Ntshingila, Facebook’s head of Africa, speaking from Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International summit in London on Monday. With 54 countries and some 2,000 languages, “the problems and the opportunities are equally diverse,” she later added.

Ntshingila said that as a technology company, Facebook’s biggest aim in Africa is to bring people online. Facebook (FB) has 145 million users on the continent with the highest percentage accessing the social media site via mobile phone compared to any other region in the world. “Fundamentally, we still have a region that is under-connected,” she said, adding that part of Africa’s potential is its young population and highly dense cities.

Just like in every other region of the world, Facebook in Africa is struggling with the spread of misinformation on its platform. “I think it’s been a huge topic around the world and one we take huge responsibility for,” Ntshingila said. “I don’t think we’ll ever get to a place where we say, finally we’ve sorted it out.” She said the company does fact checking through various partners in the region, content moderation, and is getting better at using A.I. to detect inappropriate speech that goes against its policies before they post.

Viola Llewellyn, co-founder and president of Ovamba Solutions—which provides small and medium enterprises in Africa and other emerging markets with short-term capital—is also using A.I. as a critical tool. The company created a chatbot to assist customers who might not be fluent in traditional business terms. “When it comes to financial inclusion, no matter how sexy technology is, if customers can’t interact with it, it’s a bit of a waste of time,” she said.

By asking questions such as how much did you sell last week and what is leftover, rather than what is your current balance sheet, Llewellyn said that you can create the financial picture of a company without requiring a customer go into a bank where they might feel intimidated in filling out an application form.

“If you start to talk to someone in their own language,” she said, “you’ll get the detail that a lot of the data repositories just don’t keep because Africa is frequently undercounted and underestimated.”

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