E-Health, Blockchain and a Digital Agenda for Nigeria
Technology will disrupt numerous industries in Nigeria. Healthcare will be one of them, I believe.
Last week, The Nation interviewed me on E-Health, Blockchain, Entrepreneurship, Education, and a Digital Agenda for Nigeria. Have a look at the interview and let me know your thoughts!
Only half of the actual interview was published, so I have posted the remaining part below. Topics below are Education, Blockchain and African Founders and our businesses.
What steps should be taken to ensure that workers are sufficiently skilled for what the economy currently demands?
There should be more emphasis on education. Vocational education in Nigeria was better 30 years ago than it is today. Also, new ways of education should be introduced, based around our new nature of work and leveraging technology.
We all know that many Nigerians want to be educated but just can´t afford to get training without any compensation. Therefore training should directly pay off. Professional education should be practical and include on-the-job training and training besides class. For example, dual vocational training models are on the rise where young people are employed by a company on a little but sufficient salary, work half the time, and train half the time with a partnering training institution.
Also, higher levels of education should automatically lead to better paid jobs. On our artisan placement platform, HelpOga.com, for example, we want to work with training programs so that artisans with a high level of qualification will automatically get higher-paid jobs.
Also, the focus of training needs to shift toward soft skills and the use of computers. The nature of work is shifting a lot. Up to today, a doctor for example needs to know tens of thousands of medical conditions and needs to ask lots of standardized questions to a patient. In the future, artificial intelligence-powered computers operated by nurses can help ask these questions. For specialist diagnosis, doctors will increasingly get help from tools like computer-aided radiology assessments. Already, computers have proven to be at least as accurate at finding irregular patterns in scans as doctors in certain medical disciplines. That means that doctors will have more time to guide, treat, and advise the patient rather than rushing through to the diagnosis – and care about them as whole human beings. We all know how important the soft factor of medical consultation is, even though it is often forgotten in today´s overrationalized health systems.
Similar changes also affect lawyers and teachers. Traditional teacher education emphasized the transfer of knowledge more than pedagogics. This was needed in the past. In the future, some of the knowledge taught will be provided by computers. Teachers can play videos from the world´s best lecturers and combine it with interactive e-learning apps. Students typically love this. Teachers can then focus more on helping students interpret this knowledge and guide them on their individual learning journey.
What should be the role of the Nigerian diaspora in investing in Nigeria and consuming Nigerian products?
While I see more and more Nigerians come back to their country, Nigerians abroad will also play a significant role in shaping the country´s future. Amongst foreigners in the U.S., Nigerians are the most highly educated ones with about 40% university degree holders. They can bridge the geographic and cultural gap in our work. And as the world gets more connected and collaboration between organizations and governments gets more important, they will be more needed than ever.
Where is Nigeria expected to see the greatest economic growth in the coming year?
With the Naira remaining devaluated, local production and local services will outgrow import-dependent ones. This especially includes agriculture, though it is not limited to it.
In the services field, technology-based services will keep seeing very high growth rates. Most of middle-class Nigerians use smartphones as part of their daily life, and many local services for it are yet to be established.
Over the next couple decades, blockchain technology, which allows financial transactions to be recorded using distributed ledgers, obviating the need for a middleman, remake the way we handle money. Dollars and Naira will become digital, as will many other financial assets such as loyalty points, gift card points, mobile minutes, energy credits and more. What will it mean for our money to be digital?
On the one hand, blockchain can make financial services more efficient. The operational cost of sending money from one end of the world to the other can be less than a Kobo. The large share that banks today take for ensuring the safety of your money could be reduced dramatically, as security is natively built into most of those systems.
On the other hand, the fact that blockchain-based systems don´t rely on a middleman that you would need to trust, can have disruptive potential. Today, a large amount of our data on the internet can be compromised – be it by the companies who created and manage the data, malevolent system administrators, or governments and their secret services. In many cases, this is acceptable or there is no way around. But there is more and more cases where users intrinsically distrust these authorities and blockchain could be a way to address this. Imagine elections, for example. Blockchain technology will enable voting systems which cannot be compromized by any central authority in the way that we know it. Imagine what that could mean for our elections – and the trust that elected politicians could gain from the voters once voters know the politicians were actually elected by the people for sure. The first public blockchain election has already been announced.
Similarly eHealth: Blockchain will empower the patients to choose who can access their medical records at any time, knowing that no central authority can hack into such personal information as your health data.
What does this mean for the financial services we know today?
Financial services for the unbanked will become lucrative and this will have a major impact on Nigeria. New models across the whole financial services value chain will emerge.
But also trust-based financial services where banks today play the role of a trustee or notary, could be replaced by a decentralized ledger based on blockchain and with it reduce the operational cost dramatically. Forward-looking banks as much as fintech startups are already developing a vast array of innovative services in this space.
If financial institutions are going to be issuing digital assets, like digital dollars, then what do you think will happen to the naira, our currency?
Except for a few cases, governments will be very hesitant to leverage on the advantages of blockchain-based technology. On the one hand, the technology is very young and is not yet proven on a wider scale. On the other hand, governments naturally don´t want to give away power. In the case of currency, it is hard to imagine they would want to give away their control over a central bank which can print money when politicians want it, bail out countries like in Europe and do other things. Current models of blockchain-based money wouldn´t allow any single authority to do any of that.
However, people are more and more becoming educated and the enormous debt rates we see in Western countries shows that our current government-run financial systems might not be the best way forward.
Of course, there are models where a cryptocurrency is fully controllable by a central authority like government or a central bank – such a solution has been announced by the Russian government. But typically, this results in fully tracable citizens, and I believe today´s citizens in many countries are advanced enough to not accept this.
So, it might be likely that people could claim their power back by adopting a digital currency without government in the lead. Whether this could be Bitcoin or other currencies that are more practicable and more directly linked to the economy, and whether it will be global currencies or ones tied to local applications in Nigeria, is yet to be seen.
Now to your services in more detail, just tell us about your offerings?
Many Nigerians only go to the doctor when they are deeply sick or already dying. Our service, DoctorDial, is making it easier and more comfortable to speak with a doctor. From the convenience of your home, you can chat, call, or video-call a licensed practitioner in Nigeria and even receive an expert opinion from a specialist abroad. It will also be used as a means of follow-up consultation after you have visited a doctor. Currently we are actually on a promotion and offering all services for free. I encourage everyone to check it out on www.DoctorDial.ng! 80% of our patients issues end up being solved on the spot. Those who need further physical checkup will get advise on where they can be treated.
Another service we operate is HelpOga. On www.HelpOga.com, you can find a trusted, reviewed and verified cleaner or handyman in Nigeria. With this, we want to bridge that gap between expensive large companies and often unreliable random workers that you have to hire because you don´t know better.
Last but not least, we have QuickJobs in our portfolio. Companies who are looking to hire a student on a part-time basis will find access to a vast talent pool of Nigerian students and recent graduates on www.QuickJobs.ng .
How would you assess the role African Founders is playing in developing Nigeria's economy?
We believe that healthcare in Nigeria has the potential to change a lot and technology will play a major role at this. African Founders will be at the forefront of this change with a number of initiatives that we plan in the space, from patient-centric online services to a central health record platform or training initiatives of international standard.
As a whole, we want to bring change to Nigerian healthcare, agriculture, and employment through the use of technology and by empowering local entrepreneurs.
What is the plan to stay ahead of the competition?
On the one hand, we are dedicated to providing best-in-class service quality in everything we do. We take our customers into the center of our work and build efficient structures to help them.
On the other hand, we make sure we stay deeply integrated in the offline world. Too many online businesses have failed because they have not taken into account the mechanisms of trust and convenience that already exist in today´s way of doing things in Nigeria. We don´t compete with the offline world, we enable it to collaborate more effectively and do a better job. At DoctorDial, for instance, we don´t take work from doctors; rather we allow them to make extra money at the side and take care of their existing patients in new ways – by providing an open platform where all doctors can participate – given that they are qualified, registered, and deliver high quality through our platform. Similar to HelpOga: our cleaners or artisans are not employed by us, but empowered entrepreneurs who we quality-control and support with jobs, guidance, training, and capital where needed.
Certainly. So as far as investors and the financial community, Christian, what are some of the key drivers that you still want them to better understand about you guys?
We believe fundamental change will happen in Nigeria over the coming decade and we can play a meaningful role in this. Investors we work with share that dream and as such go beyond the limits of what´s common in their industry.
At the same time, we are humble and dedicated to execution. We believe in impact stories rather than in investment sories; we invest where we can see potential for substantial change and a path towards sustainable, profitable growth.
What is your view on the concerns on the link between cash and criminal activity such as tax evasion?
Cash is hardly traceable and as such a standard means for criminal activity. However, it would be too easy to say that technology alone could change it… criminal energy will always find its way. While cash is often used by people who want to operate unseen by government, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have been used a lot for criminal use for the same reason. And even if cryptocurrencies become regulated and new cryptocurrencies are created, it will still be very hard to track every activity on the internet as it has been created as a decentralized network which derives most of its power from that architecture.
To reduce criminal activity, technology will be able to help, but a lot more is needed than just technology.
What is your outlook for 2018?
For Nigeria, I really hope that it will find its way back to high growth, especially through the expansion of local products and services.
For me, it will be an exciting year as we will see groundbreaking business models emerge. At African Founders we have some exciting product launches in the pipeline - I am really looking forward to see them live.