Manufacturers and service providers must allow the Africa’s Generation Z consumers to become involved in creating products for the market or risk losing a growing segment that will soon shape the future of many enterprises and investments across the continent.
This is according to a new report by Liquid Telecom, a tech company with operations in various parts of Africa.
Generation Z or Gen Z is the demographic cohort after Millennials that include people born in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s.
According to the telecommunications firm, a new generation is emerging across Africa who have never known life without the internet or social media. Their new report, titled ‘Introducing Generation Z’, stipulates how their consumer behaviour and spending patterns are likely to shape businesses in the future.
As more Gen Zs enter the workforce, service providers across the globe are keen to know how their new ideas and approaches may alter the workplace.
“Africa’s Gen Z is a disparate group, however. Unlike Gen Z in the more developed world, much of Africa’s Gen Z faces more basic challenges and a range of unique priorities,” Liquid Telecom said in a statement issued on March 16, 2019.
While the developed world’s Gen Z has typically grown up in a digital environment, millions of youth across Africa have yet to experience the basics such as reliable electricity, adequate sanitation, dependable education and digital technology.
Internet penetration across the continent still falls well below international averages, and data costs remain relatively high, excluding millions of Gen Zs from the international digital world. South Africa, with one of Africa’s highest internet penetration levels, passed the 40% mark in 2017, according to World Wide Worx’s Internet Access in South Africa 2017 report. The report noted, however, that income disparity was a major factor in the digital divide.
It found that South Africans on high income levels had an internet penetration rate of over 82%, while internet penetration fell below 30% among the lowest income earners.
A 2017 report from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) titled ‘IT Facts and Figures’ noted that in 104 countries, more than 80% of the youth population is online. In developed countries, 94% of young people aged 15-24 use the internet compared with 67% in developing countries and only 30% in Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Nearly 9 out of 10 young individuals not using the internet live in Africa or Asia Pacific.
However, given the opportunity, young people across Africa can lead in terms of adoption. In Africa, where the average internet penetration is around 21%, the average penetration among youths aged 15-24 is around 40%.
Therefore one of the key differentiators between Millennials and Gen Z – growing up as a ‘digital native’ – does not apply to millions of African youth. This divide may align millions of youths more closely with Millennials than with Gen Z. But there is no telling how quickly they may bridge the divide and identify with Gen Z once they have affordable high-speed access.
With their natural Gen Z affinity for technology, Africa’s youth are poised to drive massive digital innovation, which presents both employment opportunities for them and socio-economic development hope for their countries.
Oswald Jumira, Group Head of Innovation Partnerships for Liquid Telecom, works closely with global vendors, innovation hubs, start-ups and other strategic partners across the Liquid markets to implement the group’s innovation strategy.
In recent months, Jumira has been developing partnerships with innovators and start-ups across Africa. Many of these innovators are ‘cusp Millennials’ and Gen Zs, he reports: “We are seeing massive innovation coming out of Africa, much of it from very young entrepreneurs. It’s encouraging.”
Jumira believes innovation hubs and the efforts of large enterprise to take ICT skills development to school-age youths is helping drive this groundswell of innovation among Africa’s youth.
“Across Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, for example, there is a lot of activity in terms of teaching the youth to develop apps. And many of the award-winning and most promising apps coming out of Africa, designed by the youth, address uniquely African problems,” Jumira explains.
Africa’s Gen Z is displaying value systems that differ from those of their predecessors.
“They are growing up in a global sharing economy, so they have a new approach to ownership of goods. They are very passionate about what interests them and will immerse themselves in it. They are also very entrepreneurial, confident, and less likely to want to work for a boss,” Jumira continued.
While these traits may be encouraging in terms of Gen Z’s potential to innovate, Jumira believes they will also force change in the traditional workplace.
“Gen Z is impatient and dynamic, they adapt to change easily. So they might get frustrated by the ‘old guard’ and traditional ways in the workplace. They don’t want to be taught so much as to self-teach in an environment that facilitates this,” he said.
GfK research, in its report ‘GenZZA – capturing tomorrow’s opportunity’, noted that up to 41% of South Africa’s population is aged 21 or younger. While this generation may not yet have significant spending power, it is already influencing consumer behaviour and buying decisions among older generations – particularly in the technology arena.
This generation is also set to disrupt across society and work in years to come, says Rachel Thompson, Insights Director at GfK.
GfK research has found that Gen Zs are highly enterprising, challenge the status quo and expect their voices to be heard. For future employers, this could present both challenges and opportunities.
“Enterprises wanting to be the disruptors rather than the disrupted should harness these characteristics. They should create an environment in which Gen Zs have some level of autonomy and space in which to innovate,” Thompson says.
For brands targeting Gen Z, the generation’s co-creative spirit presents opportunities to go to market in ways previously unheard of.
“On our research question ‘I will be more loyal to a brand that lets me give input and help shape the products’, 76% of Gen Z participants said yes. This generation, with its sense of self-worth, believes its opinions count and is happy to become involved in creating products for market. So progressive brands can involve Gen Z in shaping new products, going to market with products in beta for example,” says Thomson.