In this second part of our series, business luminary, Austin Okere, shares his views on how we can live in harmony with machines and leaves us with some pertinent advice for young entrepreneurs.
Taking a stand
We often ask our interviewees if they have contrarian issues that set them apart. Austin says his passion for transparency in all things, as well as his thoughts on the rise of machine learning have been two such issues.
One of the great challenges in Africa is the widening wage gap. Austin speaks passionately about allowing a robust free market in the private sector, but says government salaries should be more equitable. He also believes that public servants, like teachers, nurses and police officers should be paid fairly and on time.
“There should be transparency and equity in all levels of government. We should not have the leadership getting fantastically high salaries, paid on time, when there are people providing vital services who are not receiving their fair due,” he says.
When it comes to the rise of machine learning and AI, Austin says the fear of machines (or software) taking our jobs is a real one. But, he believes more than anything, this points to a dire need for a shift in how we educate ourselves and our youth.
“The areas where machines can’t compete with us are in the unstructured spheres such as creative abilities, entrepreneurial skills, critical thinking, the STEM jobs and more recently SMAC or Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud jobs. These are the areas where we can still be relevant and work side by side with machines. But to do this we need to teach our youth how to learn, not to just learn by rote. We also need to teach multidisciplinary abilities which will ensure we will always remain relevant,” he argues.
Austin says his main argument with those in the tech sector is that we are focussing on certain areas to the detriment of others. So, for instance, he says that the focus on incremental improvements in payments at the expense of transformation in e-government services is not benefiting communities at large.
Roll up your sleeves to change the future
Over the next few years Austin says he will be focussing on transparency in government, social justice and minimising the wealth gap as well as gender empowerment.
“Having low female participation in any sector is like flying a plane with just one engine. We need to work towards having more balance in all of our organisations and we must ensure that women are represented at every level,” he says.
Drawing on his own pan-African business experience, Austin says the need for more regulatory harmonisation is also clear.
“If you look at the advantages that the US, China and now the EU have as a result of their regulations, you can see how common rules benefit entrepreneurs in those regions. If we can hasten the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) we can do away with all these 55 sets of rules and move towards one set of rules that will massively accelerate inter-African trade,” he says,
On the topic of global thinking, Austin says: “I think there is a need for a generational shift in power. People of my age were not raised as global citizens. The internet was not there and so we had a very nationalistic view and the mistrust of our fellow Africans was high. But now Millennials form relationships beyond borders and they are more willing to engage beyond their tribe, nation and colour. The generations to come will show us how to move beyond the nationalistic way of thinking.”
A final word of advice for young entrepreneurs
In closing, Austin returns to his true passion and leaves us with three pieces of advice for young business leaders in the form of his three double-ues.
Way Power – This is having all the technical knowledge you think you may need for whichever career you choose. Cultivate knowledge and equip yourself for what lies ahead.
Will Power – This is what makes you go the extra mile. There will be tough times and you need to have the will and energy to face these challenges.
Wait Power – Impatience will do you no good. Too many young people are impatient to drive the fastest cars and live in the biggest houses. Good things take time. You don’t plant a tree and expect fruit the next day.
These three powers speak to aptitude, attitude and patience respectively and Austin says exercising these three powers is necessary to achieve success.
In closing, Austin has shown us that when it comes to building a legacy, we should be focussing on much more than just monetary success. Sharing your journey and the lessons you have learned could make all the difference to a young entrepreneur and, more importantly, taking the time to invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs will leave the world better than it is today.