Digitization and Digitalization are words that thrill some people and frighten others equally. Both these words however have proved to be crucial in the world stage as we continue to live in the digital age. Digitization presents an array of benefits such as better efficiency and productivity in doing business. As Ethiopia grows, digitization remains integral and one firm championing digitization across different sectors is Elebat Solutions. Capital sat down with the firms’ CEO, Netsanet Raya, a seasoned professional and an International Consultant at the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) to get an inside view of the digital space in Ethiopia. Excerpts;
Capital: Tell us about yourself, your company and elaborate for us on what is it that you do?
Netsanet Raya: My name is Netsanet Raya and I am the CEO of Elebat Solution. Elebat solution was founded a little over 4 years ago and is a firm that is an accelerator and operator of digital finance & e-commerce aimed at fostering access through enabling rural and urban youth, SMEs and households. Our company is always enthused by its motto “Next comes first” and endeavors towards attaining the ultimate goal of our customers & partners by pursuing result-oriented approaches and strategies. We aim at demonstrating the power of operationalization vis-à-vis digital finance by being the catalyst for key stakeholders towards enabling success and scale. We work across cross cutting sectors from the economy ranging from banking, agriculture to telecommunication. We have also a footprint in the sports industry as we have also launched “TIFOZO”- the first Integrated Digital Sport Platform in Ethiopia. The platform was launched for the first time with Ethiopia Coffee Sport Club and Ethiopia Coffee Sport Club Fans Association. We are also playing an integral role in Building Rural Integrated Digital Service Delivery Outlet Networks in the country. We are undertaking these projects and many others in order to accelerate digitization as an operator so as to provide convenient access across different sectors of the economy.
Capital: It is to our understanding that you have a brilliant initiative dubbed ‘SEED YOUTH OF DIGITAL ECONOMY ACCELERATOR.’ Kindly, describe to us this project initiative?
Netsanet Raya: As part of Elebat’s initiative towards bringing a disruptive change in the digital finance sector it has launched this initiative targeting the youth. It is a five-year initiative whereby we plan to elevate the capacity of the youth. We aim to build the capacity of at least 10,000 youth each year for five years bring the sub-total to 50,000.
The youth selected for this program, first must show their interest in the technological
space. But this is not to say they “must have a technical background.” However, they must show that they have an interest in being tech savvy and are keen on exploring the opportunities and markets that digitization has to offer. On matters of selection criteria, this can vary from young degree graduates to master’s students, to students in TVETs. Primarily, a youth by convention is described to be above the age of 18 and as long as the deep-rooted interest is there in digitization, they are most welcome to be a part of the initiative. Furthermore, interested individuals can look us up and enroll themselves as members, through our digital platforms such as through our website at www.elebatsolution.com
We have targeted youth because the youth at every corner of the world are exposed to various technology and consume technology every day. Typically, when people hear of initiatives such as trainings, they resonate with teaching the actual skill. For us however it is much more than that because teaching can be administered even in academic institutions. As a firm we take this initiative intimately so as to equip the youth on the digital economy opportunities out there. Therefore, the ‘SEED YOUTH OF DIGITAL ECONOMY ACCELERATOR’ is an initiative that aims to take part in accelerating the realization of digital economy blueprint of the country through enabling youth with purpose fit capacity to grow into entrepreneurs, innovators and making them capable of exploiting the emerging digital opportunity. The primarily focus areas of the initiative include digital finance, e-commerce, digital tourism and Telecom.
The youth will be enabled through training and incubation and will further be linked to access to market, finance and or connected to job opportunities. We are taking part in this initiative because this is an opportune time, for example; The government has rolled out a favorable digital economy policy, banks are getting modernized and more banks are getting ready to enter the market, Ethio-Telecom is on its way to being privatized and liberalized thus drawing international investors and the government has also struct a huge deal with the Alibaba Group on matters innovation. Therefore, this presents an array of business opportunities in the digital economy space and we are looking forward to equip the youth to capitalize on this.
Capital: There are quite a number of projects in the digital economy space, what makes your project stand out and be unique?
Netsanet Raya: On the digital economy scene you will find financial technology companies, firms in the digital economy and finance space, Youth training firms on soft skills as well as the government through the Ministry of Innovation and Technology driving various initiatives to strengthen digital capacity. As per the best of my knowledge we are the first to offer a high level of digital engagement to the youth through training and incubation so as to exploit the business opportunities that can be found in the sector. What also makes us unique is that we are not only incubators or trainers but also, we are operators in the sector. We are Digital Finance Service (DFS) enablers. Our firm is working in operationalizing Agency Banking through building and activating digital payment and agency banking service points (Agent Network Development and management), as well as enabling financial institutions particularly banks in driving volume of transaction and resource mobilization. We also work in telecommunications and consultancy and research. Recently, during the launch of our initiative, various representatives were present from the State Minister of Innovation and Technology to UN, SNV, ILO and several pertinent international institutions. Thus, we are working collaboratively across the board to enhance the youth and I believe this makes us unique. The youth selected will also be drawn from across all corners of Ethiopia and we are not limited by one city or region.
Capital: Kindly explain to us the linkage between Digitalization and Entrepreneurship.
Netsanet Raya: The world is shifting and leaning towards digitization and digitalization every day. The major sectors of the economy are integrating and evolving in the digitization process. In this regard, high expertise in digital entities is required. What works in America may not work in Ethiopia and we can therefore not just copy paste technology rather we should tailor make it to our own country. Therefore, as the world moves towards digitization the newer markets and opportunities spring up that are entrepreneurial in nature. For example, in the banking sectors many changes have been taking place. Traditionally, there were banks and branch outlets, now Fin-tech companies are coming up in the market with financial service outlets. Our neighbor, Kenya is thriving in this aspect through M-Pesa and has about 300 thousand financial outlets whereas in our country with over 110 million in population we have about 5000 outlets. Therefore, there is a huge market potential for entrepreneurs to capitalize on as we continue to absorb digitization.
Capital: How can we grow digitalization in our country? How long do you think it will take us to fully digitalize our operations to be at par competitively with other countries?
Netsanet Raya: From the public perspective, the government should play an integral role in driving digitization. Government currently is finalizing digital economy policy which is creating digital fertile ground. Opening up the sectors for international investors also pushes for innovation and the government is doing well as its attracting investors unlike before. Overall, if the country remains peaceful this presents a conducive environment for doing business which scales up digitization.
From the private sector, there should be an approach that should be geared towards “No more business as usual.” What I mean by that is that we should not move in the previous traditional ways of doing things. The private sector must continually push for digital disruption and expansion of financial access across the country. This will harbor good innovation that will propel digitization. Other factors that have propelled digitization is COVID. The pandemic in this aspect has had appositive contribution.
In summary, I see a drastic change coming in the next five years for our country and there some indicators that already show that. Even from the world polls, after the pandemic subsides, Ethiopia is set to be among the top seven tourism destinations and we can do well in E-Tourism in this regard. The government taking big leaps in attracting investors and opening up the sector is a huge plus and is only a matter of time that things fall perfectly in terms of digitization and digitalization.
Capital: Is there anything you would like to add?
Netsanet Raya: Digital transformation is no longer an option it is an imperative and therefore it is our goal to create youth that see the future with right skills. We are also keen in empowering women. We are positively impacting the effort of women empowerment by delivering a hand on solution through our consultancy and research package indicating how to empower women in the workplace, market place and community. We hope to positively impact and strengthen more than 250 thousand women in that regard in the near future through our project.