The politics of bandwidth, skills, futurists and realists

Relevance is in the eye of the beholder

19 August 2020 | Opinion

Windhoek • Natasja Beyleveld

Even though the global mobile phone penetration is over 95%, we still need to understand what connects people, and what they are connected to.
Covid-19 is hitting government revenues hard everywhere. Johannes !Gawxab, the Governor of the Bank of Namibia, said that we can only transform by becoming more competitive. Joining the ‘online party’ is now a matter of must, not when.
But how?
The gig economy is a new global buzz word for job creation. But what about this instils value, discipline, transfers skills (a profession), and why did we not pursue this digital journey prior to Covid-19?
In the process of digital transformation, a country with a high Gini-coefficient remains vulnerable towards enlarging the access-divide. A crime wave has flooded the internet. Stay-at-home does not always bear good fruits. Covid-19 has also had a noticeable impact on school performance scores across all grades.
On 17 August Bill Gates said that “when it comes to the fight against poverty, the virus could wipe out a decade of gains. Deaths from malaria and HIV will rise. Lower agricultural productivity will see hunger spread and education rates fall”.
Do consumers have mere access to a cell phone for interactivity, extensive usage, or for innovative contributions?

Digital divide
A digital divide is any uneven distribution in the access to, use of, or impact of information and communications technologies (ICT) between any number of distinct groups, which can be defined based on social, geographical, or geopolitical criteria, or otherwise. The term was first coined by Lloyd Morrisett when he was president of the Markle Foundation (Hoffman, et al., 2001).
Trying to avoid directing (on demand) the “new normal”, we should be asking questions about the tolerated “weird” parts of digital transformation.
A booming industry is revolutionizing our lives, some might love it, others won’t. Are we dumbing it down a bit (Tik Tok, series binging, excessive whatever) to survive with this unprecedented change in engagement? Has Covid-19 stolen some of our appetite to excel, or transformed us to become more competitive (big businesses, for sure).
Now more than ever, we are communicating on every other platform to be heard. But what are we listening to? What has become the important survival skills we are now testing for implementation? Do we have trust in our political leadership and decision-making processes whilst some are “working” from home? The amount of reports on corruption and inequality are too many to untangle from the ongoing economic crisis. But we’re smiling through our teeth.

Relevancy
Being relevant does not only mean consistency, but it also demands an awareness of the communications gap due to the skills gap we have in Namibia.
Assuming we are reaching northern Namibia by boosting Facebook posts in the region, we have not asked whether we are relevant, or whether we will be heard. First the need awareness, then the demand (offering) will follow.
What are Namibians asking for most across media?
Jobs. Education. Mentorship. Financing.
We are selling to a large percentage of our population that are depressed (high suicide rates), hungry, jobless, and indifferent. You cannot see the brand’s reflection (nor political party) on a vapored mirror. Only by opening the windows will you allow the temperature to change, and the mirror to clear, and only then will the use of the mirror become relevant again.
We hear good stories about sponsorships, partnerships, renovations, foundations, green schemes, stimulus packages, virtual events, incentive-based campaigns, smart apps. Transformation is the only normal part about the ongoing changes we face today, but what is peculiar is that we might in the process be leveraging impact, connection, engagement, become irrelevant amidst all the noise. What is needed, is the moment.
What is required, is human engagement on a personalised level.
While providing training to a client in my office, all of the sudden the man in the suit has transformed into a dude in a tracksuit wearing plakkies – now that’s kind of cool. There is a mask, but the human ranks of corporate has faded, and somehow made us closer.
We are all just all people in the same crisis, needing to look after each other in a good way.
So, whilst strategizing, don’t lose thought about our present circumstances. Digital is not available to all, yet. What needs be said also needs be heard on Nwanyi FM (Silozi radio) in northern Namibia. Digital has taught us that we can no longer confine our minds to our location, but that our reach must be relevant when others tap in onto our story from whichever media channel.
What I have learned from Covid-19 is that relevance is in the eye of the beholder. You choose the way you look at people, and the way you encourage being looked at.
*Natasja Beyleveld is the Managing Director NaMedia

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