It Takes a Village

Samsung’s mission to raise awareness and to use ICT to overcome region-specific problems across Africa is evident through a series of enriching initiatives, and none more so than its now 10-strong Digital Village concept

Samsung Electronics Africa is celebrating the two year anniversary of arguably its most significant corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative to date, with its Digital Village concept having aided the energy, educational, infrastructural and technological challenges still all too evident on the continent.

Ultimately though, it was electrification in Africa that sparked the focus and, in October, 2013 in Midrand, South Africa, the first Digital Village was set up as a range of solutions designed to sustainably improve the lives of the local population through renewable and environmentally-friendly resources; an event which has set the tone for a concerted drive into even less developed regions of the continent ever since.

“Everyone speaks of the need to bridge the digital divide but we can only really achieve this if we focus on the core objective of changing lives for the better,” said Pitso Kekana, head of Public Affairs and Corporate Citizenship, Samsung Africa RHQ at Samsung Electronics Africa at the time. “Like many businesses, our challenge was to look at what was needed versus what was available and devise a plan that connected the two.

“The critical need for alternatives to the current electricity shortage problem has prompted us to develop products - under our Built for Africa umbrella - that capitalise on the sun’s energy, and today we once again demonstrate how we are using our core business strengths as an enabler to positively impact lives.”

The core concept of the Samsung Digital Village comprised solar powered internet schools, a solar powered generator, a solar powered health centre, a telemedical centre and the implementation of LED lighting to extend the lifecycles of all facilities within the Village.

As a consequence, Samsung was directly addressing a statistic that grimly highlighted only 25 percent of rural areas benefiting from electricity; which, in turn, directly impacted levels of education, healthcare and connectivity in these locations.

“The initiative is an example of Samsung’s investment in CSR on the continent; a keen focus on education, healthcare and access, and harnessing the company’s legacy of innovation to respond to the felt needs of people on the continent,” Kekana added.

Addressing unique needs

In the following two years, Samsung has replicated the success of its Midrand Digital Village across sub-Saharan Africa, penetrating as many countries as possible with the same core driver of enriching lives on the continent by leveraging a technological prowess all too synonymous with the Samsung brand.

This year has been among the most productive 12 months so far for the initiative, with four carefully chosen areas identified in West Africa; all of whom subsequently thriving with the new, sustainable features to pull upon.

February saw the first of these introductions in Libreville, Gabon - its seventh instalment overall - handing over the Digital Village to the Gabonese government; epitomising its significance to the nation as a whole.

“Gabon’s vision for socio-economic development through ICT made this the ideal site for a pilot Digital Village in the region,” said Kekana at the unveiling. “Enabling the community’s access to internet connectivity will have an immediate transformative impact.”

For Gabon, it is indeed the technological facets of the Village which the country most stands to benefit from, and the concept is geared up to offset different shortfalls in each individual case.

For the DRC - Samsung’s 10th and most recent foray announced in September - the Digital Village unveiled to the community of Kasenga will not only act as this bridge across the digital divide once again, but it will also facilitate vital, much-needed SME and business development, as well as government service delivery.

Bill Kim, Managing Director of the DRC Branch for Samsung Electronics East Africa said: “The Digital Village demonstrates our innovative approach to investing in people and their communities. This initiative offers a complete educational infrastructure, comprehensive healthcare solution and power generation capabilities that will spur the growth of small businesses and harness the energy of the sun to minimise running costs, among others.

“We understand that success in Africa requires commitment to creating the market and infrastructure around it, not just entering it. That’s why we are putting resources into a variety of initiatives across the continent that are designed to address the unique needs and conditions of the continent.”

Education and healthcare

Enveloped between these two introductions were the eighth and ninth Villages, which not only fulfilled the same objectives of all that had gone before or since, but also added a new dimension to the overall provision having been designed in partnership with UNESCO.

The United Nations’ specialist agency is based in Paris with the aim of contributing “to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development, and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information”.

A natural fit then for Samsung Electronics Africa’s ongoing CSR activities which were brought to Ghana and Nigeria in 2015.

For the former in April, it was the Volta Region positioned at the heart of communities like Volo in the North Tongu District Assembly which benefitted; UNESCO becoming involved in response to an internal report that found that 58 million children around the world were missing out on an education, and healthcare provision in rural compared to urban areas veering towards the non-existent in some cases.

For the latter, it was once again education and health that formed the crux of the advantages targeted through the Village’s implementation. The Oban community located in the Akamkpa Local Government Area consequently received the most advanced information and communication technologies to offset challenges that have engulfed the region for decades.

Built for Africa

All told, the two year and 10 Village milestones have affirmed Samsung Electronics as one of the most reputable and enriching brands on the continent, but the work doesn’t stop there.

In July this year, the Company honoured Mandela Day, and the passion that Nelson Mandela had for progressive transformation, by installing a new Smart School in the Alexandra Township in Gauteng, South Africa.

Installed under its Employee Volunteer Programme, more than 60 local staff members participated in the community cleanup and school refurbishment, while the new Smart School was installed to enable access to a broader range of educational materials on mobile devices than had ever been enjoyed in the township before.

“Nelson Mandela famously said that education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world, which is why we are passionate about enabling education and improving people’s lives,” Pitso Kekana, Corporate Citizenship Director for Samsung South Africa said. “As a Company, we are developing solutions that are Built for Africa, with education and healthcare taking centre stage.

“We are rolling out advanced internet schools in shipping containers to the most isolated parts on the continent, alongside our installing of Digital Villages, and we support these initiatives because we believe investment in the health and education of our youth is the best investment we can make for the future of this country.”

‘What if I can?’

As many as 1,000 volunteers from partner organisations and the community helped instil the Smart School in Alexandra, once again emphasising the influence that a major global organisation like Samsung can have on isolated local levels.

With larger multinational partners, as well as consumers in more developed regions having benefited from the Company’s range of electronics for years, the digital capabilities are there for all to see, but not there for all to use. It is this divide that Samsung continues to successfully bridge, embracing its all-encompassing ‘What if I can?’ ethos at its core.

“Samsung Electronics Africa took a bold step forward in March, 2015, with the launch of the new brand campaign called ‘What If I Can?’. The initiative is an attempt at shifting the mindsets of normal people to believing they can contribute towards the greater good because they have the power in their everyday routine to change people’s lives and circumstances,” the Company explained towards the beginning of the year.

The ‘What if I can?’ initiative not only complements its Digital Village, Built for Africa and Employee Volunteer Programmes,  but also encourages the wider communities to adopt similar mindsets so that the willingness to transform less developed areas becomes the norm rather than a specialised set of ideas driven by large enterprises and NGOs.

“We feel that a consumer facing campaign such as ‘What If I Can?’ is complimentary and even gives credit to our innovate solutions such as solar powered internet schools and solar powered Digital Villages that work to empower people by delivering revolutionary solutions designed to overcome local challenges and take communities into the future,” Kekana said.

The Company added: “Samsung is on a mission to raise awareness and use innovation and technology to overcome region-specific problems.

“This time, we are not only empowering communities to become healthier, better educated and effectively connected, we are also empowering ordinary people to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate around them.”