Innovating for inclusivity and sustainability

Essie Mokgonyana, SAS Country Manager & Sales Director for South Africa

Many of us may think of sustainability as a buzzword, especially living in Africa where we have so many challenges that require such urgent attention. But as business leaders we need to consider the way our business decisions today will impact society around us and how - if our decisions are not taken with sustainability in mind - we may inadvertently create a society that cannot sustain our business.

For example, if business does not invest in education and innovation, it will ultimate-ly lead to an uneducated, mediocre society that is unable to grow and, consequently, unable to afford the goods and services that business provides. Mediocrity is the enemy of innovation, and innovation holds the key to the future.

Driving sustainability through innovation

Innovation is not the same as it was even a decade ago. Previous industrial revolutions, and the first 30+ years of digital transformation, focused on technology and innovation for financial gain. Today, we have a better understanding of the need to innovate around people for survival and sustainability. Agile and resilient leaders must develop better customer experiences, nurture tomorrow’s workforce, and embrace digitalisation to create a competitive advantage.

Sustainable innovation cannot be achieved without focusing on people and society to create inclusive growth and close wealth gaps. Nor can it be achieved without focusing on the environment and caring for the resources needed to sustain life and industry. To understand its impact in both these spheres, business must leverage the power of analytics. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Cloud are the catalysts of cross-organisational innovation, helping companies to make faster, better decisions. Data and analytics can be used in meaningful ways to solve humanitarian issues around poverty, health, human rights, education and the environment.

Leveraging innovation and collaboration to solve burning problems

SAS has partnered with like-minded organisations across the globe apply data, AI and Cloud technology for positive social impact and innovation. One example is our partnership with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIA-SA) to bring together our AI expertise and IIASA’s scientific systems analysis to see the impact of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest with new eyes. “Citizen scientists” used an app to classify satellite images, allowing us to train AI models that can now help protect this wilderness ecosystem by monitoring new areas autonomously and detecting deforestation with better than 90% accuracy.

Another example is the work we’ve done with the Federal Public Service Finance Agency (FPS), Belgium, to calculate every new tax measure to the Cent. Because even minor shifts in tax rules could have major implications for Belgium’s citizens, understanding the exact impact of every change allows FPS to deliver fast, accurate insights to policymakers.

Creating a new future for Africa through sustainable innovation

In Africa, we too must look beyond ordinary innovation. If we are to usher Africa into prosperity, we must use the technologies available to innovate solutions for our burning problems. But an idea without execution is useless. We must put thought and research into ideas that matter – and then create analytics solutions that improve business decisions, performance and impact.

We as Africans are capable of global innovation. And given our urgent challenges, perhaps we also have exactly the circumstances needed to catalyse innovation for inclusivity and sustainability.

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