Balkissa Idé Siddo: The metaverse will open up new opportunities for Africa and the globe

The 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was held this year as the world continues to see complex socio-economic issues. Many economies are still reeling from the Covid-19 crisis. And with just eight more years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the burden of ending poverty, responding to climate change and achieving equality for all signals the urgency of clearly-focused solutions in addressing these crises.

These are global problems that will take coordination, time and diligence from all over the world to solve. In Africa — home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies — startups and creators are leading a digital revolution that can have a positive impact across the globe. By working to develop technology that can one day shape the metaverse, leaders in Africa have an opportunity to help the world move toward satisfying those SDGs.

This year’s UNGA theme — ‘’A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges’’ — is a stark reminder of the journey ahead in ensuring that no one is left behind as we strive towards a sustainable future. The technological efforts throughout Africa may help develop those transformative solutions needed.

The next chapter of the internet is changing fast and transforming development at quite an enormous scale impacting the world’s economy.

Working towards a sustainable future

Although the metaverse will take years to build, we are already seeing its potential to advance the SDGs.

Virtual and augmented realities can support a variety of global goals, from remotely training medics to advance health and well-being (SDG 3), to helping local leaders champion climate action to mitigate the effects of climate change (SDG 13). The metaverse’s potential across the African continent could contribute to these goals by promoting strategies that will improve health, reduce inequality and spur economic growth needed to enhance quality of life.

We believe Africa can and will play an integral part in the metaverse, by creating new ways for African brands to tell unique stories, export culture and new immersive experiences for consumers. This reality is no longer a fantasy, as Africa’s population is predicted to become the largest workforce in the world by 2035.

Digitalization is taking center stage across the continent and shifting the way we conduct business, create jobs, catch up with friends and family and access public services. The flourishing startup ecosystem in Africa has been a prime example of this budding growth, inspiring a wave of innovation across the continent.

This startup ecosystem continues to bolster a digital community and signals Africa’s potential for the next chapter of the internet, the metaverse. A recent study produced for Meta by the independent economic consultancy Analysis Group estimates that if adoption of the metaverse were to begin today and grow in a similar way as mobile technology in Sub-Saharan Africa, after 10 years it could be associated with a 1.8% contribution to regional GDP, or $40 billion, in 2031.

So how can Africa join the race and develop solutions not just for Africa, but the world around sustainable development?

The metaverse is being built in Africa too

In many ways, the metaverse will be a natural evolution of the internet. We have moved from primarily text-based web services, to speech and video-based ones. The metaverse is the next generation – a more immersive, 3D experience defined by a feeling of presence, like you are right there with another person or in another place. It will be more human than the way we experience the internet today – more physical, interactive, and speech-based than flat screens filled with text and images. And it has the potential to open up worlds of opportunity for people across Africa.

While our vision of the metaverse is still fairly faraway, we’re seeing African companies and innovators already starting to build for this future, with an ongoing appetite and desire to continue to bring this to life here in Africa.

Just a quick glimpse into the current reality — the continent is already buzzing with creative talent and occupying its seat at the metaverse table. Nigeria’s Mosope Olaosebikan, founder of Africa’s first digital museum is shaping the narrative of culture and people using immersive and innovative methods of curation such as AR and VR. Pixel Chefs, a South African innovative creative agency is using emerging digital tech to create immersive impactful experiences for both its local and global clients. And, Kenya’s Black Rhino VR — a virtual reality production — in Nairobi is creating bespoke VR and AR solutions and content that are adaptable and relevant to the African and global market.

While tech companies such as Meta are building for the metaverse on the continent by investing in programs such as 2Africa that will accelerate fast and reliable internet, much more needs to be done to build fruitful collaborations that will last for the metaverse in Africa.

The move from paper to action will take formidable allyship across companies, developers, creators and policymakers. We need to work together to build an inclusive metaverse for Africa that will bridge the digital divide and ensure equal representation globally, and across the continent.

Africa’s diversity and dynamism is fostering creativity, agility, innovation and the freedom it takes in building a metaverse that can weave itself in sustainable development.

Balkissa Idé Siddo is Meta Public Policy Director for Sub-Saharan Africa.

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