Factory workers in Accra, Ghana. Productivity of its people is pivotal to Africa’s future. But how can it be achieved? Photo by: Dominic Chavez / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The Economist’s recent Special Report on Africa argues that “minds, not mines” — in other words the productivity of its people, not its commodities — is pivotal to the continent’s future. This is exactly the outlook that we embrace, for a dependence on oil, diamonds or any minerals inevitably creates cycles of booms and busts that destabilize a subset of African countries and their people.

We also agree that the proven path to Africa’s prosperity requires improving the building blocks of good governance, making systemic improvements to each country’s infrastructure, health care, education and employment services — whatever is needed in each unique country to boost the quality of life for generations to come.

A continent of 1.2 billion people (predicted to be 2.5 billion by 2050 — a quarter of the world’s population) offers too big an opportunity for governments, nongovernmental organizations, donor organizations and corporations not to embrace it fully — from both a financial and a humanitarian perspective — especially when the Economist points out that the African continent is more peaceful and democratic with more leaders employing sound economic policies than in the past.

Data-driven insights and processes — fueling Africa’s progress

Each and every one of the 54 diverse countries in Africa needs a data-driven underpinning in order to implement policies, programs, and processes that boost the quality-of-life for its citizens. A data-infused foundation is a non-negotiable for constituents involved in transforming Africa’s future. It enables all invested in successful outcomes to make better decisions, gain efficiencies and boost results.

Here are four ways these outcomes can be achieved:

1. Identifying exactly what needs to be improved — with clarity on performance against goals including national development plans and Sustainable Development Goals — as well as clarity on the levers that will generate desired outcomes.
2. Sharing knowledge and best practice — for efficient and effective implementation across facilities and geographies.
3. Enabling collaboration among all constituents — such as government officials, nongovernmental organizations, donors, corporations, citizens.
4. Acting accountably and transparently — allowing for objective monitoring, benchmarking and visibility on performance of individuals and systems.

An opportunity to lead, not follow

A few months ago, Caroline Kende-Robb of the Africa Progress Panel authored an article, “10 reasons to Watch Africa in 2016,” in which she outlined transformative opportunities for Africa, including what Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution, writing, “In 2016, rapid technological changes have the potential to create new industries, reduce inequality and drive structural transformation.” She posits that Africa has the potential not only to simply gain from shifts — such as the ascent of digital technology, blended finance, and the green and blue environmental movements — but also to take the lead in harnessing their potential.

In our own work in developing economies, we’ve seen how smart data strengthens the return on investment for all stakeholders, including:

• A district health manager’s ability to pinpoint facilities with the greatest negative impact on overall performance in seconds as opposed to months, focusing interventions and boosting viral load completion rates for ART patients at a clinical level from 32 percent to 92 percent in just one year.

• A provincial governor’s transformation of their bi-annual ministry meetings from a review of thousands of slides of data into an insights dashboard, which provides a razor focus on priority issues and radically improves accountability for results.

• Better forecasting of critical seasonal malaria chemoprevention, or SMC, medicines across 13 malaria-endemic countries in sub-Saharan Africa — enabling operational monitoring, production planning by manufacturers and a forum for collaboration among SMC partners.

Fortunately, there is a groundswell of support for the transformative power of data-driven initiatives — here are just a few:

• The Roadmap for Health Measurement and Accountability and 5-Point Call to Action, a joint venture of the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization and country partners to increase the use of data in global health to identify threats and direct resources effectively.

• World Economic Forum Data-Driven Development Pathways for Progress’ priorities, including commercial incentives and agreements to ensure access to data streams held by private establishments, capacity building at all levels from individual to institutional, and the establishment of digital identities for citizens as producers and consumers of data.

• The Urban Institute’s Political Economy Framework for the Urban Data Revolution, outlining how data-driven governance is central for officials at all levels to meet SDG11: Sustainable cities and communities.

There is a unique opportunity lays in front of African leaders and the organizations and investors who collaborate with them to empower a quarter of the world’s population and showcase to the world what is possible.

With potential to change the trajectory of crises, such as famines or the spread of diseases, the innovative use of data will drive a new era for global development. Throughout this monthlong Data Driven discussion, Devex and partners — the Agence Française de Développement, BroadReach, Chemonics and Johnson & Johnson — will explore how the data revolution is changing our approach to achieving development outcomes and reshaping the future of our industry. Help us drive the conversation forward by tagging #DataDriven and @devex.

About the authors

  • John

    John Sargent

    Dr. John Sargent, co-founder of BroadReach, is recognized globally as a health care solutions thought­ leader in market development strategy, health systems analytics and optimization, and public­-private partnerships in emerging markets.
  • Ernest

    Ernest Darkoh

    Dr. Ernest Darkoh is a co-founder of BroadReach Consulting. He is an internationally known expert in strategic health care systems planning, development and large-scale program implementation, including Botswana’s highly acclaimed Antiretroviral Treatment Program, the first African national HIV treatment program which serves as a successful model today.