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  • Writer's pictureAfrica Makes Foundation

Future-proofing SA for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Updated: Mar 23, 2019

For Dr Cherise Dunn, director and co-founder of South Africa Makes, 3D printing is an integral part of the fourth industrial revolution. And it presents women with opportunities to make their mark in the tech space.

A period characterised by the blurring of lines between the physical and digital worlds, Dunn explained that the fourth industrial revolution offers the world countless opportunities to innovate and do things differently.

Speaking at the College of Cape Town and On the Ball College's Women in ICT Seminar at the beginning of August, she noted the fourth industrial revolution gives women an interesting choice. "We can either choose to be fearful of these changes and allow men to take the lead, or we can stand up and choose to embrace it."

As the director and co-founder of a business that teaches design thinking and uses 3D printing for socioeconomic and educational development in Africa, Dunn explained that while 3D printing may still seem like something quite futuristic, the technology has already made big strides in industries from film to healthcare. In fact, she shared that Ruth Carter, the Oscar-nominated costume designer on the Afrofuturistic film, 'Black Panther', almost exclusively used 3D printing to create the costumes and jewellery used in the film.

With this in mind, Dunn noted 3D printing can enable small business owners to take an idea, doodle it on a piece of paper, draw it up using some sort of design and drafting software, and then print it out in a matter of hours. It is an affordable and environmentally efficient way to create products, which opens up the playing field for aspirant entrepreneurs in developing economies to start something new, she continued.

"It's the only emerging technology within the fourth industrial revolution that offers entrepreneurs a cost-effective and accessible way to create a product relatively quickly after coming up with an idea." According to Dunn, this affords them the freedom and flexibility to fail, and to fail fast. "Failing isn't something we should be embarrassed by or afraid of," she explained. "In failing, you learn. You can tweak your idea, fix what didn't work and try again."

When looking at how the fourth industrial revolution will affect South Africa, she shared that about five million jobs will be lost as a result of this digital revolution. In order for people to stay relevant as the nature of work changes, employees and business owners need to improve their social and emotional skills, among other things. "This is where I see exciting possibilities for women," she said, adding that these social and emotional skills have traditionally been viewed as less important than other aptitudes.

But there are still so many challenges when it comes to creating a more inclusive industry and providing young people with the right role models in tech communities. Studies show the lack of female representation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers has nothing to do with ability, it's about perception. "Which is why it's so important for women to support each other, to encourage young women to explore things outside the box and to teach them relevant skills," she noted.

"So, why does all of this matter?" asked Dunn. "Because having diversity leads businesses to perform better, because you are bringing so many different perspectives to the table. Given the extent of the changes brought on by the fourth industrial revolution, no business can afford not to have everyone be part of the conversation."

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