Article compiled by FESBC
Mbabane: Rather than sit on their laurels lamenting the devastating effects of the pandemic, Eswatini youth can spend their energies strategising solutions for personal and societal benefit. Overall, internet-native Eswatini youth keen on harvesting and harnessing the (invisible) latent possibilities that COVID-19 predicts for 2021 as depicted in the graph below stands a better chance of MSME growth by +13 percent of Annual Turnover.
Eswatini youth should count themselves lucky for being born in the information age. By tapping into opportunities within information and communications technologies (ICT), our youth can help convert the internet into a productive infrastructure during COVID-19 and simultaneously tame its negative effects, such as cyber bulling and online fraud.
Opportunities for emaSwati youth
One area of potential (micro, small and medium enterprises) MSME entrepreneurship lies within online information, education and communication. The contagious nature of the novel disease (COVID-19) necessitates public service information dissemination on a massive scale if behaviour change is to be achieved nationwide.
The challenge is that much of the information regarding COVID-19 is rendered in technical, complex and scientific language. If COVID-19 jargon – everything from terms such as epidemiology to co-morbidity – is obscure enough for many with formal education, how about for the millions of emaSwati who do not have formal education?
Nevertheless, efforts have been made to simplify the information, however, much more needs to be done for public education for the masses in our Kingdom. Consider for instance that in the SADC region, the predominant languages into which COVID-19 is communicated is English, French and Portuguese. However, there are 200-plus indigenous African languages across the SADC region. While equalising access to information on the pandemic will require massive investments into language resources, such action is important to help elevate information as a weapon with which to fight the pandemic.
The fact that our Eswatini youth are often more educated and speak more indigenous and dominant foreign languages than older populations is a major asset in this regard. Eswatini MSME Entrepreneurial youth with linguistic competences, especially transcription and translation skills, have an opportunity to approach potentially interested organisations and establishments with translation projects (e.g. Siswati and Zulu)
There is and there will be a massive need for informational materials – from posters to mobile phone applications – that are clear and comprehensible. Thus, skills in graphic design for online and printed materials will also continue to be in high demand locally and regionally.
Skills in the information, education and communications fields are also useful in demystifying and dispelling the misinformation and (fake-news) disinformation that has accompanied the disease. Our youth who are able to fact-check and therefore verify the reliability of information would play a major role in helping our Eswatini communities to separate fact from fiction. This is a great business opportunity for MSME Start-ups.
Moreover, analysing massive amounts of information and data sets and making them relevant to Eswatini communities would also be a service that helps mitigate the ill-effects of the pandemic. Skills in scanning and correcting traditional and social media: Plus the packaging of data and information from multiple sources for easy and convenient consumption will be needed nationwide in the near future. Indeed, some of this information is being disseminated via online platforms, such as webinars.
This suggests that the many local and regional organisations convening video and (ZOOM) teleconferences need several services. They may also need editing services to repackage the online discussions into easily viewable, listened-to and readable formats. For instance, organisations may need transcription services to convert information from audio formats to readable text such as Microsoft (MS) Word documents and MS Publishers, MS Database (Access) or MS Excel (Graphs).
Beyond MSMEs and entrepreneurship focused on behaviour change, information and communication technology skills can prove beneficial to our youth and society in matters of trade (export and import). Particularly important is information, communication technology about the demand and supply of goods and services directly linked to the health and medical dimensions of the pandemic.
For instance, in the short span of the pandemic, we have seen lots of products produced locally in across our Kingdom and region, in what has been labelled “science-based entrepreneurial businesses”. In our Kingdom, innovative youth have managed to manufacture kits and equipment from designer Eswatini Made Face Masks to PPEs; Face Shield or Visors; Mechanical Sanitizers; South African Made Diagnostic Equipment, and, Clinical Care Equipment and Products from the SADC region. Through online knowledge transfer and information sharing, our Eswatini youth nationwide or in our community that has already produced useful equipment or products can help their counterparts in other parts of the Kingdom or community to replicate (legally copy) their innovations and creativity.
How can Eswatini youth tap into these opportunities?
Eswatini MSME and Entrepreneurial youth who are competent in the afore-mentioned skills can ask themselves a couple of questions as they develop ideas towards reaching their full potentials, transformation, and self-actualisation. Which are the other MSME organisations interested in COVID-19 messaging in (e.g. Zulu or Eswati) indigenous languages? Which are the organisations whose work necessitates mass communications? And which are the organisations that are fighting misinformation and (fake news) disinformation? These and related questions would help our aspiring MSME youth leaders to be able to target and segregate a (new) niche market while developing their entrepreneurship ideas.
The answers to some of the questions lie in identifying organisations seeking to sensitise and create awareness in our local communities. Our Eswatini Government and local (Municipalities) governments, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), media establishments, medical organisations (from pharmaceuticals to public health bodies), and more, all need to communicate to Eswatini communities in languages and formats they understand.
For example, Tech companies such as Google, Wikipedia, WebMD, Bing, Microsoft and Facebook would give consideration to proposals that help generate such local COVID-19 content. Our Telecommunication Industry, (EPTC) or (MTN or Swazi Mobile) companies would also lend an ear, given that their businesses revolve around expanding the reach of their services. Furthermore, road, air and water transport companies would see the value in innovations that help display information in visually powerful formats in a language the locals will understand. In a nutshell, any organisation that deals with large numbers of people is a potential client for our MSME and entrepreneurial youth (Start-ups) in the fields of information, education, and communications technologies.
Further, in terms of the demand and supply of goods needed during the pandemic, because our SADC region and Kingdom has generally been at the tail end of the infection’s trajectory, our local youth entrepreneurs can study what is happening in the countries that have battled the pandemic and learn from their success and failure factors. For instance, which products and services were most in need at the various stages of the pandemic in Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, where the pandemic was well managed? It is feasible that the products and services that were in demand in those countries will eventually be required in our Kingdom and SADC region assuming that infections will spike as we approach the peak? A basic skill by our Eswatini youth in these regards is analytical internet research capabilities coupled with market analyses and surveys.
Fortunately, in relation to linkages between countries is the fact that Africans are generally known to have weathered many epidemics in the past. Indeed, the 2014 Ebola virus disease outbreak has been described as having many similarities with COVID-19. It has been pointed out that small, informal MSME businesses in the DR Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea which endured the Ebola outbreak managed to survive by adapting to the circumstances. These experiences are lessons learned: There is potential for online connections to be established between our MSMEs and entrepreneurs in the Kingdom and all other countries across the African continent that are facing a disease outbreak on this scale for the first time.
In conclusion, our entrepreneurial Eswatini youth need to see every challenge posed by the pandemic as an opportunity and move on to either leverage the skills they already have or rapidly acquire the necessary skills as a means of addressing the challenge. Indeed, a SWOT Analysis, with a simple table or grid with columns and rows for strength, weaknesses, opportunity and threats (challenges) plus new skills acquired during COVID-19 would suffice as a means of pairing every problem with a solution.