Tackling digital inclusion in South Africa

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Within the 2021 Roland Berger Digital Inclusion Index (RB DII), Sub Saharan Africa placed last in each of the four categories – accessibility, affordability, ability and attitude – against all other regions globally. “Digital inclusion is the empowerment of individuals and societies to effectively use ICT, enabling them to contribute to and benefit from today’s digitalised economies and societies. It is crucial to create an equitable and sustainable digital society and to facilitate both personal income growth and macro-economic development.” 

This may be difficult to achieve in South Africa based on the latest ICASA State of ICT report, which illustrates that a little over two million homes have fixed broadband access. Of these, only 660 000 homes have a fibre connection, compelling communications and digital technologies minister, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, to declare that government will review its plans to provide South Africans with access to connectivity in their homes by 2024. 

“Access to connectivity has become a basic need. It is as much a basic need as access to water and access to electricity − because it determines access to education, access to health, access to work, which are fundamental for our survival,” the minister said.

However, according to Karam Malhotra, partner and global vice president of SHAREit Group, there is an “accessibility disconnect,” which happens when user habits outpace infrastructure growth.

“Now students are learning online, people are using video apps instead of watching TV, and spend hours reading news online or interacting via social media. People were happy to play a 10MB game not too long ago. Now, they’re not happy playing anything less than a 1GB game,” he says. “It went from Nokia’s Snake to Call of Duty. As a result, the amount of data users required grew by 100x,” he says.

SHAREit, an online and offline digital content platform, wants to tear down the barriers to digital inclusion in emerging markets and provide access to the underserved.

The questions of accessibility and affordability

In its earliest days, the company focused on building a cross-platform file sharing app, which evolved into an online and offline file sharing, content streaming, and gaming platform.

Additionally, it’s “a powerful, open ecosystem with apps from many developers,” adds Malhotra. “SHAREit unlocks the ability for many types of phones to share many types of content without the need for an internet connection or mobile data consumption and is downloadable for free. This is incredibly important in emerging countries and especially in rural areas.”

Mobile internet connectivity remains poor in emerging countries. South Africa was placed 136th globally in Cable.co.uk’s latest Worldwide Mobile Data Pricing 2021 Report, which measures the average cost of 1GB of mobile data in 230 countries. The reality is that full digital and financial inclusion remains elusive.

Tapping into human proclivities

SHAREit’s success can be attributed to its localisation efforts, analysing the target market’s cultural background and language environment and adapting the app’s design, interaction, and functionality accordingly. In addition, it selected PerformDM, one of Africa’s leading digital media sales agencies operating in over 25 African countries, as the exclusive strategic sales partner of SHAREit in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Our growth is built on the principle that sharing makes people feel good, which is facilitated by our high-quality user experience and the fact that local users talk about it to each other. This explains the virality that now sees the app reach almost 20 million monthly active users in South Africa,” says Chanel Hardman from PerformDM, acting as Country Manager for the brand.

This organic foundation powerfully drove adoption in the country. While the app was launched as a simple file-sharing platform, the team realised it was becoming a trusted source of referrals in underserved communities, one of the fastest-growing apps globally. Nearly 2.4 billion users have installed SHAREit Group’s diversified suite of applications to date.

“Near-distance peer-to-peer is the world’s largest offline-online social ecosystem,” Malhotra says. “We are enabling a digital economy we don’t even know about. Every popular game has at least 30 imitators,” he points out. “How do you know which is the legitimate one that doesn’t have viruses, malware, or spyware? You ask your friend.”

Peer-to-peer sharing also organically improves digital literacy as friends trust and teach each other about how apps work. This, in turn, leads to financial inclusion. “When we look at Africa’s adoption of financial technology and innovative payment methods like M-Pesa, it’s evident that economies can change when there is access to devices and data, with new businesses and new customers coming online,” Hardman adds.

Serving the underserved

“Tapping into over 90 South African advertisers and their existing user bases, SHAREit also helps brands with awareness campaigns, user acquisition, digital payment options, and seamless user monetisation via extensive audience networks. Clients can then reinvest the revenue into further user acquisition,” she says.

Digital inclusion is an imperative

“Sharing plays a profound role in adoption in emerging countries, it’s how users find out about new products, new technologies, and ways to be more productive or earn a living, and we are dedicated to building high-quality content platforms where it connects users and content. We have made strides in eliminating digital content limitations caused by external factors, making digital content easily accessible to everyone,” Hardman concludes.