Digital technologies have changed the way people live, work and interact. Currently, South Africa has embarked on a digitalisation journey which aims to see the country harness the power of emerging digital technologies to propel economic growth and empower its people.

Creating a digital society is one of Vodacom’s three key purpose pillars with the objective of connecting people to a better future by bridging the digital divide across all our markets. To demonstrate commitment, Vodacom articulated its purpose to improve the next 100 million lives and halve their environmental impact by 2025. Vodacom’s Sustainability Report for the year ending March 2020 demonstrates that the telco has made significant progress in enabling a digital society through its commitment to promoting digital inclusion and democratising data.

“With emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, mobile financial services, we are leveraging innovation to address poor healthcare, education, financial exclusion and the digital divide, so as to improve the lives of every citizen and help them achieve more,” says Vodacom South Africa Chief Officer for External Affairs, Taki Netshitenzhe.

As digital becomes an essential part of our daily lives and enabling economic development and growth, it has never been more important to ensure that all people are able to not only participate in the digital economy, but to also receive the benefits of it as well. A study by Accenture on unlocking digital value for business and society revealed that over 51% or R2.9 trillion of value can be created for society through digitalisation within key industry sectors and governments services. By connecting millions of customers to affordable voice and digital products and services, the extension of network coverage and quality, and breaking down barriers to access to the digital world, Vodacom continues to make strides in enabling a digital society.

Digital inclusion enables participation

A digital society cannot exist if citizens are excluded from fully accessing digital technologies as it requires people, communities and things to be connected to the internet.

Vodacom’s 3G network coverage in South Africa is now available to 99.7% of the population, with 4G covering 95.4%. Vodacom’s rural coverage acceleration programme has enabled the development of 377 rural network sites, with 137 new connections in the year ending March 2020. Rural coverage provided by Vodacom now sits at 82.9% connecting communities that had previously not been connected to the internet.

To drive digital inclusion through device penetration, Vodacom introduced the most affordable 4G smartphone, the “Vibe” which retails at R299. The telco saw a 3.9% increase in smartphones with 20.1 million smart devices on its network while the number of 4G devices increased by 34.5% to 12.9 million. This year also saw Vodacom introducing prepaid device financing to make smartphones more accessible. Following an agreement with the Competition Commission earlier this year, Vodacom put R2.7bn into the pockets of consumers through the reduced cost of data bundles up to 40% and zero rating of several government platforms that are consolidated under the ConnectU platform. Through the platform, customers are able to access free online resources such as job portals to find employment, educational content through Vodacom e-School, health and wellness information through Mum & Baby which provides parents with reliable health information through pregnancy to a child’s early years, as well as access to select government sites such as Home Affairs, ambulance services, education sites and government communication services.

Accessibility of digital solutions can improve lives

Vodacom’s mobile platform, developed with Mezzanine, to enhance medicine stock visibility for health facilities reducing stock outs and expanding access to essential medicines is now used in over 4 000 health facilities in South Africa, Zambia and Nigeria.

Through its Connected Farmers platform, Vodacom has been able to support more than 1 644 small scale farmers in South Africa to improve productivity and enhance job creation in the agriculture sector.

“Vodacom aims to be a leading digital company that puts people and the betterment of all first. Technology’s good is found in its capabilities to empower and transform and we will continue to leverage that power to create a connected, digital society,” adds Netshitenzhe.

Vodacom’s financial services portfolio continues to grow from strength to strength in South Africa building up on the success of M-Pesa that has revolutionized financial services in international markets. In South Africa, Vodacom introduced a SME financing solution, VodaLend Business Advance, which provides SMEs with quick and easy access to business funding. This digital solution ensures that SMEs have access to funding needed for business growth and job creation. In addition to the short-term finance, qualifying SMEs also receive business legal assistance through VodaLend, at no further cost.

Most recently, Vodacom announced plans to create a ‘super app’ in partnership with digital payment provider Alipay, part of China’s Alibaba group, to allow consumers in South Africa to shop online, pay bills and send money to family. The App will link merchants, big and small suppliers and consumers.

Enabling a digital society in a sustainable manner

To alleviate environmental impacts, Vodacom invests in climate-smart, energy-efficient networks and solutions, developing water-wise practices for their operations, and minimising waste across its value chain. In anticipation of the increasing demand for digital services, which directly increases Vodacom’s energy consumption, Vodacom has implemented an energy management strategy aimed at reducing their energy usage and carbon emissions by progressively decarbonising their energy mix. Vodacom has deployed intelligent controls to more than 3 700 base stations in South Africa through a partnership with their subsidiary IoT.nxt. To drive a sustainable network, Vodacom has signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with an Independent Power Producer that generates power from renewables which covers 36 base station sites in South Africa and also has more than 950 solar-powered networks across all its markets.

Through their water conservation efforts, Vodacom has steadily decreased its water consumption in South Africa by 63% since 2015. To reduce e-waste, Vodacom has extended the useful life of 308 tons of redundant network equipment for reuse within their network, responsibly destroying 1 189 tons of batteries and recycled 977 tons of e-waste across all markets. In addition to minimising their own impacts, Vodacom has created product and service offerings to enable customers to optimise their environmental performance, including smart-metering and other IoT-enabled devices that help to reduce energy and water consumption, and lower greenhouse gas emissions, enabling customers to reduce 224 004 mtCO2e of carbon emissions.

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