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‘With right policies, technology can take Nigeria out of recession’

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Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor

Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor is the Country Manager, Google Nigeria. In this interview with Adeyemi Adepetun, she bares her mind on industry issues, with advice to government to see the ICT sector as priority with opportunities to take Nigeria out of the woods. She equally spoke on the recent feat achieved by Google, in which the search engine giant recently trained one million people across Africa, with 500, 000 coming from Nigeria. Excerpts..

Can we be more specific about the operations of Google in Nigeria?
Google‘s mission is about making information available to everyone through technology. One of our products is the search engine, which is where we started from. A lot of people got to know Google through the search engine. What a search engine does is to give access to the world’s online information easily. We have since expanded beyond Google Search, but everything we have done has been around that central mission of making information available. For example, we also have Google Maps which make location and mapping information available. We have been updating the local maps for Nigeria online and frequent users should notice a year-on-year improvement in quality. Today in Nigeria, if you are going for example to Ikeja from Victoria Island, you can get directions and turn by turn navigation on your mobile phone via Google Maps. That is an example of making location information available to people.
 
Another example is YouTube, which is really about online video content. On YouTube right now, we have Nollywood content, African music, and locally created videos around lifestyle, education, sports, among others. We try as much as possible to ensure that we make Nigerian content visible to the rest of the world. Central to what we do is just making sure that the power of technology is leveraged to make life easier and businesses more productive.

In doing this, did Google considered the infrastructure gaps in Nigeria, especially as it relates to online activities?
Access has been a really big part of our strategy because to engage online, people must have access to the Internet. We have done a number of things. On the one hand, we have initiated programmes to provide Internet access. We ran a programme with Nigerian higher institutions for a period of six years, where we paid for international bandwidth to support faculty members and students in getting online. Imagine having access to global online libraries! We have provided this end to end connectivity to about 15 universities including Uniben, Unilag, Covenant University; Bayero University, and UniPort. We also deployed educational software including Google Apps for Education in 50 Higher Institutions in Nigeria as part of the programme. That programme was really our way of bridging the access gaps and ensuring the university communities get online, as this can effect changes in the lives of thousands of people. 

Another thing we have done is work with stakeholders including government to see how broadband infrastructure can be more present in Nigeria. We were part of the committee that developed the National Broadband Plan (NBP). We have worked with telecoms operators to look at different ways to bundle our products and services in a way that will be more affordable and available to the end user. We have also done things like installing our Google Global Cache servers at the Internet Exchange Point and also at telco locations and peering with telcos at the exchange. This way we keep local traffic local, reduce transmission costs, and ensure that we can easily showcase popular content, especially video content.

You mentioned Google been a member of the NBP committee, what do you see as slowing the implementation of the plan?
What the plan did was to highlight the challenges and propose practical solutions to addressing them. For example, some of the challenges highlighted were the high cost of Right of Way (RoW); double taxation, cable cuts, among others. There were efforts to alleviate some of those challenges. For example, following that exercise, the Lagos state government brought down the RoW fees significantly. The infrastructure challenge is an important one for us to overcome and it would be great to see more effort and attention placed on implementing the plan and creating an enabling environment for broadband growth.

Looking at the Digital Skills for Africa programme, through which you empowered about one million people in Africa within 11 months, how was Google able to do that?
It was a great accomplishment for us and one we achieved through the commitment of partners. When we set the target, we knew it was ambitious, but we were very keen to make impact at scale. We equally know that capacity building is one of the important pillars that we must build if we want to create a vibrant online ecosystem.

We signed 14 partners covering primarily Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, but also other countries in Africa. These 14 trainers have been running classroom based training on an ongoing basis since we started. And it was through these partners that we were able to meet the target. We also had lots of groups express interest in training their members and some great partners reaching out to collaborate with us including banks and eCommerce players. For example some churches and associations reached out to us to ask if we could train their youth. We collaborated with Lagos State government to train students in higher institutions in the state. We are working with the office of the Sustainable Development Goals to train 125,000 people across Nigeria. These kinds of collaborations really helped us to scale.

The programme has been completely free to the users. It is an investment Google is making to build capacity in the region. It shows our long term commitment to the continent.

You trained 500,000 people from different part of Nigeria, what challenges in specific did Google encountered?
Whatever we do, we always place a premium on quality delivery, execution and impact. So, partner selection was a very important exercise, making sure that we have the right set of people to work with. Also, we had to go through an on boarding process and ensured that high quality of delivery was maintained. With a huge target like one million, it is very easy for quality of service to degrade as you go along, but it was important for us to maintain the quality of service throughout the programme and so we put in a lot of rigour in making sure there was adequate supervision and reporting. The sheer logistics of running such a programme across the continent was also another issue we surmounted. We had people internally that were full time working with various partners to provide the right supervision and quality assurance through the entire process.

After this training, what next from Google?
It is worth mentioning that this training is in two dimensions. We have classroom training and an online portal digitalskills.withgoogle.com localized in English, French and Portuguese. We have several modules on the portal and people have the option of coming to classroom; or taking the training online. If one completes the online curriculum, he/she can get certified. That is still available. We will also continue the training in classroom, but our focus now will be on driving more impact. We will be capturing stories from those we have trained to see how to get them to the next level.
 
The excitement for us is about the ripple effect of having one million trained and the impact they can have on their communities. Some of our participants have been able to get jobs following the training, some have expanded their businesses and employed more people thereby creating jobs for others, and some have become trainers. One of our participants has successfully trained 5000 people in few months.  How do you compare growth in ICT in Nigeria and other countries, especially looking at the training Google just completed?

As you know, Nigerians are incredibly smart, entrepreneurial, and creative. We have been very impressed with the talents seen, especially with how people have been able to leverage the tools made available to them. A success story example is one of our early training participants called Telle Williams. She has a background in consulting and prior to attending the training had been thinking about resigning to start her own business. She had a flair for technology but was not sure about direction to take. After the training, she set up an agency called Digital Republic, providing digital training and digital support services to SMBs. She subsequently became one of our trainers and her organisation currently offers web development, social media marketing, among others. Today, she has six members of staff. Technology can play a leading in helping people create opportunities for themselves and for others. Technology can help businesses grow beyond borders. It has been great to see the level of adoption and engagement from Nigerians but the success stories are not limited to Nigeria, they are across board. What I will say as well is broadband availability and affordability is a strong area of opportunity in Nigeria. In the last year, we have seen data prices come down, which has actually increased online engagement. But the big opportunity is ensuring that there is an enabling environment for broadband growth because there are greater things to come.

How do you measure follow up to ensure that the trainings got by the people are put to judicious use?
Through our partners, we follow up with participants to share information about other opportunities that are available. From time to time, we also get in touch to know what is working for them, how the training has impacted them, and to know what further areas we can support them. It also worth adding that one of the benefits we have seen through the training has been people network with others. Post training, some participants have gotten together to form supportive networks through which they collaborate and share experiences and knowledge.

Has the economic situation negatively impacted on Google’s operation in Nigeria?
I will answer this question from two perspectives. The first being that as we look at growing and diversifying the economy on a broad term basis, we must as a nation also think about technology. This is because ICT actually provides tools that people can use to empower themselves and we have seen cases of people learning new trades and developing new skills by going online. Some of these people have subsequently created businesses and been able to employ people. Technology plays a key role in diversifying the economy because for instance when you think about a platform like the YouTube, we have entrepreneurs who are basing their entire businesses around putting content on YouTube. That content by virtue of it being online is available to the whole world.

So, they are moving from just serving a local audience to global ones.

If we take Nollywood movies for example, we have partners who are earning incomes by putting Nollywood content on YouTube and a huge percentage consumption of that content is from outside Nigeria. So, technology is giving us means of exporting our local content and talent. We talk about wanting to increase our exports as a country; people are already doing that through technology, exporting creative content and monetizing that through local and global audiences; and attracting Foreign Direct Investments, which is required to grow the economy.

As we tackle recession, it is very important that we build capacity, which is why Google invested in training one million people. It is critical that we develop digital capacity and create an enabling environment for technology to thrive, and for people to create opportunities for themselves. Technology tools also help increase efficiency and productivity in any sector including agriculture.

From Google’s perspective, we work in different ways with our partners. We have over 12,000 online partners in Nigeria monetizing content on Youtube. We have partnerships with online publishers that use our Adsense platform to monetize their traffic. We also have clients that leverage our platforms for digital marketing. Of course, this represents a huge partnership landscape. Whatever happens on the national level impacts these partners and if they are impacted, we at Google are impacted as well.

How do people make money through Google Platforms?
Taking Youtube as an example, the first thing is to have something of value to offer. If you have content that is of value, you can put it on YouTube. If the content is compelling and people like it, you attract a following. You can then monetize the traffic by signing a partnership with Google. We put online advertising on that content and have a revenue sharing agreement with the partner. All the partner needs to do is to generate content, he or she doesn’t need to worry about advertisers. Google takes care of that. There is a very sophisticated backend system that manages all that. What we encourage people to do is for them to identify something of value and focus on that and grow the traffic. This also applies to digital publishing.

Has there been any issue of partners complaining of not get their dues, as in right payments?   
The process is very robust and automated, and is the same process that runs globally. I mentioned that there is a very robust backend system that manages the process. Where the opportunity lies is in educating people about how you can get the best from the platforms – how you can grow your traffic, and best practices. For example Google frowns on people trying to make money from copyright items. To monetize content, we must make sure that you have proper rights to the content. If we detect copyrighted material or spam on your site or channel, Google will send warnings and if no action is taken, the account would be blocked. We do this to ensure value to all the parties involved – content owners, advertisers, and users. The guidelines are in place to ensure fairness, good customer experience and quality, and a win-win situation for everybody. We constantly train our various partners about these guidelines.

Does Google have any relationship with local apps developers in Nigeria?
We do engage very strongly with the developer ecosystem. Local content development is very important to Google because we want to stimulate the digital economy. People need to be engaged with local apps that solve local problems. Part of making that possible is to ensure that developers can build and monetize Apps. We have over 30 Google Developer Groups in Nigeria. These are like minded people in the technical space that come together to share knowledge. We provide lots of training to them, as well as tools and competitions. We also provide support to local tech hubs in the country. The Afrinolly app is one of our success stories. It got a grant from Google after winning our Android developer competition.

Are our locally develop apps competitive?
We have a lot of skilled developers. To be more competitive there must be an enabling environment. These developers need access to infrastructure, training, and support to move from idea to prototype to products and to business. The over 12, 000 partners we have on the YouTube platform is also part of supporting local content. Google is equally doing a lot with SMEs, training them on how to out and grow their businesses online. We want to make sure that people can find locally relevant content like local businesses online.

As an expert, a subscriber, what is your view about telecoms services in Nigeria?
I will say the sector is very critical to the economy and plays a very strong role for people to get online. We have seen a lot of development in that sector and there are also a number of challenges that have slowed down growth and expansion within the sector. Some of these challenges were uncovered when we created the NBP. Challenges like the high cost of RoW, double taxation from Federal and State governments, vertical integration, cable cuts, among others. There is also the power challenge. Operators have to run generating sets further increasing their operational costs. It is important for government to addresses these challenges to be able to fully unlock the opportunities in the sector.

If you are to advise the Federal Government on faster implementation of the NBP, what should be the focus, considering that the targets set are for 2018?
I will mention three things. The first being improved infrastructure. A number of recommendations were put forward around making it an easier terrain for expansion and growth, removing some of the challenges I spoke about earlier. It is important for Government to create an enabling environment for broadband to grow. Secondly, government must stimulate demand. Government is probably the largest consumer and a very strong influencer, so if we look at digitizing government services, that would play a very strong role in catalyzing the industry. Technology tools also help increase efficiency and productivity.

Thirdly, there must be capacity building. This is very critical, especially digital capacity. This is why Google is investing in digital capacity. Yes, one million is a large number, but in a country of over 180 million people, there is room for a lot more growth.    



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