Aurore Bonny

What African CIO clubs do to foster digital talent

Aug 25, 20238 mins
CIOIT LeadershipIT Skills

Gaining traction as intellectual networks made up of diverse IT leaders, African CIO clubs work to innovate and clean up the digital environment, all while promoting digital skills and literacy.

group of African executives in a meeting
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CIOs agree on the indispensability of innovation, and depending on the degree of importance and urgency, they’re getting more involved with like-minded people organized not just within their companies, but on a national scale to positively impact the digital environment for the long term. The influence of these CIO clubs, due to demand, is steadily growing.

“Digital innovation represents a lever to accelerate value creation, helping to improve competitiveness and enhance organizational performance,” says Lisette Ebondzo, CIO of the Ministry of the Civil Service, and president of the CIO Club in the Republic of the Congo. “As such, the CIO must be able to evaluate, propose, and deploy technologies and technological uses likely to contribute to the achievement of the organization’s strategic and operational objectives.”

To take advantage of this, the club contributes to the development of digital uses in the workplace, and promotion of the information systems manager. It also helps stimulate the digital economy in partnership with the national chamber of commerce, and every four months, it organizes a ministerial meeting during which a company is invited to share feedback on a digital innovation project that’s had a positive impact on the company.

It also pilots a digital transition project for SMEs, designed to provide the same digital tools as those available to large multinationals, according to Ebondzo. Training and supporting young people in digital entrepreneurship is foundational as well, with the aim of promoting the emergence of innovative start-ups equipped with the digital capabilities as SMEs. Supporting digital innovation in the service of the Congolese civil service is also integral for members with the State Human Resources Management Information System (SIGRHE), now a national project financed by the World Bank.

Immediately to the west, Gabon, a country located in the same Central African sub-region, is headquarters for the African security and information experts club, CESIA, a club of experts made up of CIOs, CISOs, and other IT leaders. “Digital innovation is a real economic lever here,” says Didier Simba, founder of CESIA. “It undoubtedly enables companies and industries to increase their productivity.”

However, in his view, digital vulnerabilities remain, which African companies and governments shouldn’t underestimate.

“Telecommuting, nomadism and shadow IT are widely installed in our work habits, but for digital security professionals, these practices present risks,” says Simba. “We strongly recommend using new technologies and digital innovation to help boost business productivity.”

Farther northwest, in Senegal, the national CIO club brings together IT managers and engineers from the country’s private, semi-public and public companies, and sees innovation as an opportunity for development in the broadest sense. “It’s for the creation of both intellectual and economic wealth,” says Arnaldo Ribeiro, the club’s president. “Here, we believe that innovation must be a permanent challenge to boost creativity, develop talent, offer innovative services, and create jobs.”

Innovation is achieved through events and awards organized by the club and counterparts in other nations.

“We encourage potential candidates to participate in scientific committees and juries,” says Ribeiro, noting that another ambition is to create an incubator to boost talent. “It must be recognized that financial means are an important factor, something that is generally lacking due to limited resources.”

Retaining talent: an ongoing challenge

In the Maghreb, innovation is a daily campaign alongside the search for talent, according to Haithem Abdelkefi, general secretary of Tunisia’s CIO Club. To support this campaign, the club aims to raise the profile of innovative initiatives both nationally and internationally to draw in skilled people.

“We promote the IT ecosystem in Tunisia and abroad in association with other African CIO clubs and internationally, mainly with France and Germany,” he says.

He sees this as a way of cleaning up the country’s technological ecosystem to help combat a thorny problem reported by many business sectors in Africa: the brain drain.

“Many Tunisian graduates are unfortunately absorbed by foreign countries, where they’re hired once they pass their baccalaureate,” he says. “We have between 5,000 and 8,000 graduates every year, which is a huge number, and Tunisian families do their utmost to save money in order to send their children to complete their studies and have a professional career outside the country. Generally speaking, the typical career path of a young Tunisian IT graduate is to gain a little experience locally and then move to Europe or North America.”

Those people sometimes go back to their native country years later with interesting projects, according to Abdelkefi, but don’t find the economic situation attractive. “With the shortage of IT resources, this is problematic and makes it difficult to find resources,” he adds.

To remedy this, the Tunisian CIO Club has set up a range of activities.

“We organize two types of events,” he says. “The general ones deal with an array of things and take place over several days, or theme days spread over a long period. The aim is to keep abreast of technological developments, and we try to move away from the everyday to more cutting-edge themes, with top-level international speakers.”

Afterworks is the other event, and helps retain local talent, and is dedicated to the treatment of particular subjects with smaller groups of people. “It’s a way of bringing skills up the ladder via training courses for members, paid for by the backers,” he says. “Improving the climate encourages talent to stay and brings back people from the diaspora.”

For the Congolese club, the brain drain has become a structural problem, far beyond the remit of a CIO-type association. “People legitimately aspire to a good job, in good conditions with a good salary,” says Ebondzo. “Unfortunately, the grass always seems greener on the other side.”

Is digital illiteracy under control?

CESIA founder Simba explains that they’ve set up what they call colleges, or are groups of a few members working on a particular theme with the aim to produce a deliverable outcome for the general public. “For example, one of the colleges is working on an African comic strip on cybersecurity to raise awareness of issues to young adults, and may encourage vocations among this young population,” he says.

This activity also serves to contribute to the decline in digital illiteracy in many African countries, something that still needs to be prioritized. More initiatives are springing up to raise awareness of digital technology, which he believes is now part of daily lives. The CIO clubs are certainly a way to help solve the problem.

“It’s not uncommon to see these initiatives go even to remote areas in several African countries,” Simba says, adding that CESIA regularly organizes awareness-raising workshops. “The African cybersecurity barometer we publish every year enables us to take stock of the situation, but also to raise awareness across the continent on related issues and thus fight against this digital divide.”

For Ebondzo, president of the Congolese CIO Club, this problem is real, but it doesn’t just affect the African continent in particular. “Many countries, including in Europe, are no exception, even if it must be acknowledged that the scale of the phenomenon is not the same everywhere,” she said, reporting that her club trains and supports young people in digital professions, with or without a diploma. “We act by participating as a player in government initiatives to reduce the digital divide such as the Project of Digital Transformation Acceleration Program (PATN), the Universal Electronic Communications Access and Service Fund (FASUCE) and private initiatives.”

In Senegal, Ribeiro has observed a lack of digital integration in education, and believes the initiative to reverse it must come from the government and alumni associations. For the club he heads, it was a question of participating, at the invitation of partner universities, in reforming training programs. “Our professional experience and knowledge of the needs of our companies enable these training centers to meet the expectations of companies, and new graduates thus have more job opportunities,” he says. “We also offer internships to students during their training. Some of our members also teach courses at various institutes. Wherever possible, we favor local expertise when it’s available.”

For Tunisia, though, Abdelkefi believes digital illiteracy there is less of an issue than in other countries. “There’s a fairly significant penetration of technologies in our society in general,” he says. Also, the awareness-raising sessions for the general public organized by his club contribute to this literacy effort, he adds. “We get a lot of feedback on the CIO and CISO professions to give students a taste of professional life and what interests them,” he adds.

Aurore Bonny

Aurore Bonny is a journalist, blogger, and communication specialist. She is particularly committed to writing about ICT, environment, social, politics, security, and art, and has collaborated with specialized media in those fields. She enjoys transforming complex topics into simple, inspiring, engaging and informative news with a strong social impact. She is a philosopher in love with humanity, an evangelist of love and peace. She has an open mind, always ready to learn and share.

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