Online is a lifeline
During lockdown many of us did things we would never have thought possible from a distance. We saw friends and family, gathered round a screen. We studied in our kitchens and living rooms. We no longer went to work but work instead came to us. Online tools have been a lifeline. At least, that was true for the lucky ones among us. Those of us with access to the right technology were able to close the gap in space between us and the rest of the world.
This was true long before coronavirus too. Digital technology has changed our world but its benefits are too unevenly spread. As the world emerges from the initial coronavirus crisis, this matters more than ever. Recent research has shown that as economies begin to rebuild, the ones that are best placed to thrive are the ones that can embrace new technology. Online tools and skills will be a catalyst for the comeback.
Governments are also looking at this challenge. Speaking at a virtual meeting in May, the AU Commissioner H.E. Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid stated that the health and economic challenges of COVID-19 has reemphasized the need for African countries to expand broadband, cheaper and faster to the last mile of their populations”. With a 33% jobless rate expected this year in Nigeria alone, we couldn’t agree more. This is the moment to ensure that as economies recover, opportunities are distributed fairly and that no one is denied the opportunity to thrive after coronavirus for lack of the right technology.
We have been working with governments, employers, and many more to put the power of digital technology in everyone’s hands and are now pledging to help 10 million people and businesses in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East benefit from digital before the end of 2021.
Firstly, we need to invest in people and their skills to achieve a sustainable, inclusive economic recovery. Five years ago, we saw many young people out of work and a digital skills shortage. So we announced a commitment to help 10 million people in African prepare for jobs of the future through our Digital Skills for Africa training program. Today we have trained over 3million in Nigeria, and during lockdown, we saw a 300% increase in those taking part in our training programs. Now, we are paying for 100,000 Google professional certificates on the Coursera platform which are designed to lead to digital-based jobs. Half of these certificates will be reserved for individuals from underserved groups who have significant barriers to learning (such as language, caretaking responsibilities, financial difficulties). To help people find jobs, we’re investing in our Job Search product and making available in more countries.
We must also ensure that the skills required to thrive after coronavirus are spread beyond just the biggest companies. Smaller businesses, after all, are the backbone of the African economy, accounting for 90% of all businesses on the continent.
Because of that, Google has provided $340 million worth of free advertising to SMBs across the world, $1 billion to support nonprofits and we have made some of our most popular tools both more useful and accessible for small businesses. We made our premium video conferencing service, Google Meet, free for all to use. We made changes to tools like Search and Maps so that businesses could more easily update their customers about changes to their opening hours and other information, as well as making it easier to receive donations, sell gift cards and take orders online.
Now we are investing further to help businesses digitise faster, including access to free tools and capital for underserved businesses. Where they are not already online, we are helping them build a digital presence. Then, with tools Grow my Store and Google my Business – now updated with COVID-19 related information and insight – we are helping them find new customers online and we’ve added over 10 features to support businesses affected by COVID-19 since February.
We remain fundamentally optimistic about the future – about the role technology will have to help people, businesses and communities recover. Online tools have been a lifeline for people and businesses in lockdown and those tools can help people learn new skills and find new jobs. But as the Nigerian economy begins its recovery from coronavirus, the responsibility to ensure we can all thrive is shared. Government, businesses and individuals must work together to help everyone benefit.
Ehimuan is country director, Google Nigeria.