Terry HE, President of Huawei Northern Africa
The pandemic crisis has profoundly changed the priorities in the agendas of decision-makers, particularly in terms of investment in ICTs. Do you think this paradigm shift will help accelerate the development of the digital economy on the African continent?
The Covid-19 pandemic has undeniably accelerated the digital transformation in Africa, even if this transformation was already underway. Africa is a deeply connected continent, where the digital culture is already well established, particularly among younger generations. According to the GSMA, sub-Saharan Africa has an estimated 456 million mobile subscribers, a penetration rate of 44%. This figure is constantly evolving.
Both the public and private sectors in most countries of the continent have thus realised that the digital transition is an imperative and an absolute necessity in the face of the health crisis , enabling them to better understand the future and its challenges. As a result, we are seeing a trend towards accelerated digitalisation of certain industries, in addition to the usual ICT sectors.
Digital innovations are affecting and transforming sectors such as health, transport, energy, finance, agriculture and tourism. In agriculture, for example, the World Bank estimates that with adequate transformation of the sector, the agro-industry should be worth $1 trillion by 2030. According to the CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural Cooperation), digital solutions are expected to represent a $14 billion market, with an estimated 200 million African farmers likely to adopt digital solutions by 2030.
The development of the digital economy will therefore offer more opportunities on the continent in terms of job creation and economic growth.
Overall, how is the Huawei Group contributing to the development of the continent's digital economy?
As a global leader in providing information and communications technology (ICT) solutions and infrastructure, Huawei's vision is to bring digital technologies to every person, home and organisation. We hope to see this vision of a fully connected and intelligent world become a reality in Africa as well.
Together with our partners, Huawei provides telecom operators with innovative, state-of-the-art, secure and reliable network products and solutions to accelerate the development of the digital economy in the countries of the region . By strengthening our infrastructure, we are helping to bridge the digital divide in remote areas of the continent. For example, we have deployed our innovative RuralStar solution in DRC, Ethiopia, Guinea and Cameroon, significantly reducing the cost of building and deploying the network in rural areas and connecting more than 1,000 villages and over 2 million people in the Huawei Northern Africa region.
These products and services are also offered to governments and businesses, with e-government solutions being developed in several African countries.
Today, Africa is the largest free trade area in the world, a market of 1.2 billion people, a growth recovery in 2021 of around 3.4% (AfDB) and half of its population will be under 25 years old in 2050. The challenges are huge, but so are the opportunities, and everything suggests that the continent's potential will enable it to be the leading continent of the 21st century: abundance of renewable energies, an economic fabric made up of VSE/SMEs that are increasingly resilient, and a young generation that is increasingly attracted to entrepreneurship (72%), as Jean-Michel Severino and Jérémy Hajdenberg, co-authors of the book Entreprenante Afrique, point out.
To promote digital education among this young generation, Huawei has trained more than 37,000 people in the Northern Africa region in recent years through the Huawei ICT Academy programme alone. In the coming years, we will continue to address the digital needs of each country through a series of initiatives such as Huawei ICT Academy, ICT Competition, Seeds for the Future and country cooperation programmes such as DigiTruck. We plan to train 150,000 people over the next five years with a range of initiatives that match each country's digital strategies, to encourage young Africans to take advantage of the enormous opportunities that digital offers to support Africa's economic growth and development.
Northern Africa is the most connected region on the continent with mobile penetration at around 70% and 4G coverage at 83% by 2020. How do you see the digital potential of this sub-region over the next five years?
Despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on this region, Northern Africa is a powerhouse for the continent in terms of connectivity. As you pointed out, you have the most connected countries in Africa, with Algeria and Tunisia having the highest mobile phone penetration rates, and Tunisia and Morocco having the best 4G coverage. In terms of training, the region is also a goldmine in terms of digital talent. It is estimated that Tunisia trains more than 8,000 ICT engineers each year.
The challenge for this region is to fight against the brain drain and for this highly qualified workforce to find professional opportunities that will allow them to stay in Northern Africa and develop the current digital ecosystem. This is a challenge for Huawei, which supports states in their digital transformation. Legislative and financial reforms must now accompany a new growth pact, focused on the inclusion of women and young people, green energy, health, education and digital. We will be mobilised as a partner for growth for those countries in the region that make this choice.
Along with infrastructure, human resources remain the cornerstone for the development of the African digital economy. What are the programmes initiated by Huawei in this sense in order to encourage the emergence of new talents specialised in ICT in Northern Africa?
We invested early on in education to foster the emergence of talent that will be the players of tomorrow's digital revolution, such as through the Seeds for the Future programme we have been involved in since 2014, which identifies the brightest young talent on the continent and then trains them in ICT and cybersecurity. We have been collaborating since 2016 with reputable institutions in several countries in the region to set up technology academies and teach students the most advanced knowledge in Routing & Switching, Cloud Computing, IP, IT, 5G, AI, etc. In 2020, in the face of the epidemic and the cessation of classes, Huawei launched the Learn ON initiative, which transformed the Huawei ICT Academy into a distance education. To this end, we have set up over 260 online classes in several countries. In Senegal, as part of the collaboration between Huawei TECH4ALL and UNESCO, we created DigiSchool, which provides digital equipment and tools as well as technical training to more than 200 teachers from 60 primary and secondary schools in the country. This has benefited 15,000 students.
We launched the Huawei ICT Competition since 2016 to promote learning through competitive emulation. These competitions have already attracted over 50,000 students. Algeria, Egypt and Morocco have won the first or second prize in the latest global finals.
We have also signed multiple memoranda of understanding in the region to foster the emergence of young talent and to help build a strong ICT ecosystem. More recently, we decided to support the "Women in Africa Young Leaders" programme, with Dior and Lazard Bank, which works to promote African women entrepreneurs. By the time you read this, 5 young women will have been selected and will benefit from mentoring, a training course on the theme of female leadership and the skills of tomorrow. My deepest wish is to multiply these platforms and partnerships in order to encourage the emergence of a generation that takes ownership of all the possibilities offered by digital technology.
In Africa, Huawei currently employs some 9,000 people, 81% of whom are local. With the current development of the digital ecosystem, do you envisage new recruitments in the short term in the Northern Africa region?
We are constantly recruiting because we believe in Africa. Like any large company, we are major providers of employment and we must set an example. So, by continuing to recruit local people, we are enabling the people of Africa to be fully involved in their digital revolution.
We are proud to be working in Africa and for Africa! Huawei is committed to valuing the continent in both its recruitment and management. Our employees are regularly pushed into leadership positions in Africa to increase their skills. We have many employees whose careers have developed almost exclusively at Huawei.
We will continue to encourage training and talent development, and we will continue to help create jobs and support the younger generation in Africa. In the future, we will step up our efforts to recruit and develop talent in new areas, including cloud and AI. For example, we recently brought in an experienced cloud and AI executive, Mounir Soussi, to lead our cloud and AI business for the African market.
You have just been appointed head of Huawei Northern Africa. In terms of management, will you be following the same logic as your predecessor or will you be making changes? And what will your priorities be in the short term?
With the pandemic, the world has evolved in 15 months more than it had in 15 years in certain sectors. So of course, our profession is evolving, our practices are evolving, and we have to be able to embrace change. I would even go so far as to say that we must encourage it! But whatever the evolution of the context, neither our fundamental values nor our policy of placing the client at the heart of our activity will change. Our slogan "In Africa, For Africa" will always be at the heart of my work as Chairman of Huawei Northern Africa.
The analysis I have made of my first trips and meetings on the African continent is the extent of the digital transformation underway. This transformation is not only oriented towards the new technology sectors, but also has impacts on the strategic sectors of the economy: education, health, energy, or even administration.
I am convinced that the digital economy will revolutionise the traditional economy. Indeed, the demographic evolution in Africa, which will be 90% by 2050, according to UN forecasts, can no longer follow traditional development. Therefore, my priority is to help African governments accelerate their digital transformation and bridge the digital divide with Huawei's advanced technologies, experience and innovative solutions. I hope to help make a fully connected Africa a reality in the near future.
You have accumulated experience in countries that are essentially culturally different from those in Northern Africa. Is this a handicap or an advantage for you as a decision-maker and new president of Huawei Northern Africa?
Having lived in different regions and experienced different cultural backgrounds is an advantage; it helps us develop a more tolerant and open mind. It helps us to have a broader perspective to assess and solve problematic situations.
A management position requires a natural curiosity and a strong capacity to adapt. Working in different cultures, both professionally and personally, means dealing with others and understanding their mindset. Business relationships are ultimately based on human relations. If you know how to listen, you will be able to convince the other person.
But to understand the other is first to understand his environment. In my opinion, total immersion abroad is the best opportunity to understand different mentalities. I was born in China, Huawei gave me the chance to work in many countries in the Middle East. From each of these unique experiences over the past 15 years, unique in many ways, I remember the importance of being open to others. This philosophy, acquired through experience, accompanies me every day in building solid, trusting relationships with our partners, both in the Middle East and now on the African continent. While each country is unique, the values of tolerance that we cultivate at Huawei are universal.
Furthermore, beyond the differences in the cultures and history of each country, I am convinced that people all over the world – and this of course includes Africa – are united in their desire for advanced digital technology for a better life. In this we share a common language and a similar goal.
Huawei's human resources policy places the African region as "an almost obligatory passage" for climbing the ladder within the group. Why is this preference given to the African continent?
The reason why Africa is an " almost must " for Huawei managers is that the business environment on the continent allows employees to grow with greater business experience and capabilities. Huawei employees working in Africa have the opportunity to enrich their knowledge and experience, and thus better understand our group, its areas of expertise and the different departments that structure it. This is what Huawei's founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, advocates in order to become a 'generalist'. This is a quality that should be found in a good manager.
Huawei shares a common history with Africa. We have been on the continent for over twenty years now. This is not blind opportunism, but a long-term relationship where we learn a lot and develop our expertise to serve the people.
Africa is a continent as immense as it is rich. Rich in culture as well as in future potential: by 2050, the population will have doubled. A young and dynamic population that we are already training for the digital revolution. Our investments are commensurate with our ambitions: each year, we devote more than 10% (nearly 16% in 2020) of our turnover to Research and Development, to create the innovations of tomorrow. Eliminating white zones, opening up rural areas, connecting the continent's cities and regions: these are all challenges that will enhance a professional and human career.
The infinity of possibilities is an opportunity to gain skills and to propel careers. And it is with the greatest enthusiasm that I approach this new African stage.
Interview in La Tribune Afrique