By Kojo Boakye, Public Policy Director, Africa for Facebook
2020 has been a tough year for all. We’ve seen people and families impacted, economies, and the world change. Through it all though we’ve seen and heard amazing stories of people and communities coming together, taking the challenges and turning them into opportunities.
We’ve witnessed acts of selflessness from healthcare workers who continue to risk their lives to cater for critically ill COVID-19 patients, while we’ve been inspired by champions like Davis Waidhulo from Uganda who mobilized tens of youth to help educate and share accurate health information about the pandemic. Others like Mike Oyola who lives in the Kawangware, low-cost housing settlements in Nairobi, Kenya have sacrificed their meagre resources to purchase and distribute soap to fellow residents, helping them properly sanitize and keep safe.
Such acts of selflessness are aplenty, demonstrating the resilience of our continent, and our ability to rise as one and forge a common front in a time of great distress; the true spirit of Ubuntu- I am, because you are.
Africa is important to Facebook and, despite the ongoing impact of by Covid-19, we remain as positive about its future as we have always been. Our work in the continent has focused on bringing people together, supporting Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) and, in the case of 2020, supporting the continent’s COVID 19 response.
In particular, SMBs have borne the brunt of the pandemic. The Future of Business Survey, which we conducted in collaboration with the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, indicates that over a quarter of operational SMBs on Facebook closed down between January and May due to a poor business environment. A good number drastically cut down on their workforce due to reduced sales.
What’s encouraging though is that a significant number of SMBs have been able to bounce back after they adopted digital tools that are helping them meet the challenges posed by COVID-19. We undertook a follow up survey in October in which 38% of operational SMBs on Facebook reported that 25% or more of their sales were made digitally.
To support SMBs during the pandemic, we at Facebook pivoted to offer virtual trainings for all our Economic Impact Programmes (Boost with Facebook, SheMeansBusiness, Digify Pro and Aspiring Entrepreneurs Programme) as well as the Digital Literacy Programmes enabling thousands of small businesses to learn the skills of how to leverage digital tools to achieve their business goals. Some 55,210 SMBs in 14 countries have undergone training under the Economic Impact Programme, while another 26,562 people across six countries (Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal, Zambia, and Cote D’Ivoire) have been trained on digital literacy skills focused on how to responsibly and safely use digital platforms. The $1.8 Million dollars in SMB grants have been used by 998 companies in Nigeria and South Africa to bounce back.
Our COVID-19 response has extended to supporting the continent’s health community, national centres for disease control, and ministries of health to help keep people safe and informed about COVID 19. Working together, we connected millions of Africans to accurate information and helpful resources about Covid, all while limiting misinformation on our platforms. We’re incredibly proud that our COVID Info Centers, for example, were launched in all 54 countries across Africa.
Despite the economic uncertainty and bleak outlook projected by some, Facebook has prioritized its investments in Africa. During the year we announced large infrastructure investments in internet connectivity, including submarine cables, edge networks and backhaul fiber. The 2Africa cable, which we announced in Mayr in partnership with eight global and local partners is one of the largest subsea cable projects in the world at 37,000kms. The cable, along with our other infrastructure investments, such as our fibre investments in Uganda, DRC, Nigeria, and South Africa, will deliver new opportunities through increased connectivity, resulting in benefits for African governments, businesses, schools, hospitals and everyday internet users.
Those set to benefit most are the young people that make up the majority of those on the continent. Facebook is proud of the work we are doing with young Africans, helping them create and seize opportunities. We are playing our role in stimulating the creative sector which currently supports thousands of youth and has the potential to employ many, many more. Through our Community Accelerator Programme, for example, we are helping train, mentor and fund Facebook communities’ leaders to enable them to grow their communities.
We remain invested in the continent and we see Facebook continuing to play its role in Africa’s digital development for years to come. This is why in September this year we announced our intention to open a second office in Africa to be based in Lagos, Nigeria. It will help support the entire Sub-Saharan Africa region, and will be the first on the continent to house a team of expert engineers focused on building amazing products for Africa and, of course, the world.
All in all, Africa will continue to be a critical part of our operations and we look at 2021 as an opportunity to continue demonstrating our commitment to this continent as we support programmes that enable people to build community and bring the world closer together.