Why Botswana's Nascent Tech Landscape Is a Great Opportunity For Innovators

According to Eric Shmidt, the former Google and Alphabet CEO and executive chairperson, China holds three major advantages which continue to propel it over the US in terms of innovation and technological advancement. 

The first one is the lack of "good enough" legacy systems. For example, whilst the US has a high number of people with bank accounts and credit cards, China doesn't. This has, as a result, fueled and accelerated the innovation of mobile payment solutions in China much more than in the US. The second one is the scale of consumer markets for innovations. This is not just about China's larger population but the ability of tech innovations to solve the pain points and inconveniences which have come about as a result. 

For example, China's extreme urban density has led to the fast-tracking of innovation of "on-demand" services in many sectors including food delivery, transportation, etc. Lastly, according to Shmidt, China's advantage over the US is explicit government support and involvement offered to innovative companies. For example, while China has freely shared government image databases with innovators to help them accelerate the development of facial recognition technologies, the American government can't easily do this because of the backlash that may invite from privacy advocates. The annoying limitations of democracy, hey?

Looking at these factors that give China a comparative advantage over the US in terms of tech innovation and advancement, one can realize that they are mostly similar to most African countries, Botswana included. Let's start off with Botswana's lack of legacy tech systems. From retail to payments to banking to computing, most systems in the country are just empty analog canvases waiting for the brush of digitization streak across them.

Then there is the scale of the consumer market factor. Botswana's wide array of socio-economic issues including high rates of unemployment, rapid urbanization, etc all present a great opportunity for innovation at a grand scale. With regards to the last factor of explicit government support for tech innovation, though  I don't believe the Chinese Communist Party's modus operandi of invading privacy in order to aid innovation is a great example to be followed, I do believe the Botswana government has a role to play in aiding tech advancement through creating an enabling environment via implementing the proper regulatory frameworks, etc.

Over the years, the capabilities of emerging markets to create just as much if not better than high-end markets have been getting apparent because, as the old saying goes, "necessity is the mother of innovation". I believe this fact should be a great motivation for local innovators that to be successful, they don't have to build the next Uber or Airbnb but rather learn the local market and from that, figure out the best product or service to address the market's pain points and inconveniences. And considering the number of pain points and inconveniences in this country, the room for innovation is vast.