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Event Background and Description

The Digital Transformation Series provides a forum to engage with government, public sector, influencers and academia, to foster discussion and debate on emerging challenges and policy implications arising at the intersection of the Sustainable Development Goals and Digital Transformation in industries, sectors and countries.


Situated in a context in which global challenges posed by the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, “Digital Transformation” and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this event brings together government, policy and industry experts, academia, and innovators to stimulate and foster discussion on relevant topics with the aim of highlighting the policy issues and recommendations needed to effectively address these challenges.


The event objectives are as follows:


Introduce and seek input into a paper on enabling the digital economy in Africa.


Foster policy dialogue across four distinct policy themes:

Enabling Skills and Workforce Development (Fireside Chat)

Enabling Trade to Drive Investment in Infrastructure and Cross-Border Data Flows (Breakout 1)

The Future of Work: Responsible Principles to Enable an AI Ecosystem (Breakout 2)

Enabling Effective Cybersecurity Policy (Breakout 3)


The series draws upon the global knowledge, expertise and creativity that exists in industry, public sector, entrepreneurs, and academia to discuss the emerging policy implications and the need for partnership to deliver a trusted, responsible and inclusive digital economy. The series leverages a unique partnership approach connecting students, professors, researchers, policy experts, organizations and governments from across the continent to enable the growth of the digital economy across Africa.


The U.S. Africa Business Center (U.S. AfBC) is the preeminent voice advocating for increased trade between the United States and Africa, focusing on leading the U.S. business community with Africa’s regional economic communities, the African private sector, as well as small and medium-size enterprises.


The Digital Economy Task Force advocates for the development of robust digital economies and promotes business environments that foster innovation and the seamless flow of data. Chaired by Microsoft, the task force will leverage the Digital Transformation Series platform to host an event in Pretoria, South Africa to highlight digital economy drivers across Africa, and identify policy best practices in the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector. The event builds on a successful digital economy partnership hosted with Strathmore University in Nairobi in February 2018. In addition, the event capitalizes on recent dialogue surrounding the entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and the Chamber’s engagements with decision-makers at the regional level, as well as bilateral engagements on digital trade matters and workforce development efforts underway by Chamber members in markets across the African continent.

Breakout Sessions

The U.S.-Africa Business Center, in partnership with University of Pretoria and Microsoft, invite you to Pretoria, South Africa for a dynamic discussion on digital transformation in Africa. Convening business executives from established private sector, U.S. and South African government decision-makers, and thought leaders from the African Union, regional economic communities, academia and practitioners, the event will accelerate the development of robust digital economies across the continent and promote business environments that foster innovation and the seamless flow of data.


The two-part program includes a public forum followed by private sector breakouts on skills and workforce development, infrastructure and digital trade, effective cybersecurity policies and responsible artificial intelligence principles.  The Task Force will leverage the Digital Transformation Series platform to highlight digital economy drivers across Africa, and identify policy best practices in the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector.


The following breakout sessions are one hour each, and would be facilitated by a third party partner, to be identified.

Private Program

After the closing remarks during the public program, invited participants would move into assigned rooms for pre-designated breakout sessions. In addition, subsequent to the public program, an event expo would showcase products and services that support workforce and skills development efforts as well as tools that are being adopted by South African users, pioneered by the largest ICT investors in South Africa.

Fireside chat theme description

Technology is changing our lives at spectacular speed. Advances in medicine, education, communication, and productivity have increased life expectancy around the globe and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The ability to connect to people and information instantly is so commonplace that many people take it for granted.  Governments around the world are transforming and adapting to this change. The challenge for governments is to harness the power of the technology to transform people’s lives for the better without unleashing the potential for dislocation and disorder.


In Africa, as in elsewhere around the world, the benefits of technology will not be realized across society if the right policy environment is not in place. Streamlined policy frameworks and regulatory best practices can drive the development and adoption of cutting-edge tools, such as the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence.


There is also recognition that the economic benefits of such technologies may not necessarily be distributed evenly across societies, and that certain technologies may affect the labor market in unintended ways.


Likewise, governments and the business community must partner together so that the dividends of digital transformation benefit all of society. Governments and their respective citizens will need substantial dialogue on these challenges, but they should not use these risks as a motive to strangle innovative technologies.


This session will explore questions such as:

What successful collaborations exist between the public and private sector that demonstrates inclusive digital transformation? How can such examples be scaled to deliver tangible benefits to societies?

How can governments differentiate between legitimate issues addressable through public policy and illegitimate fears?

What existing regulatory frameworks already apply to emerging technologies and how can they be leveraged to support government’s workforce and skills development objectives?

How can the government (and private sector) work together to prepare the workforce for the future?

What skills does the new workforce need?


Are there examples within Africa or elsewhere that can be emulated?

Breakout session theme descriptions

Session 1: Enabling Trade to Drive Investment in Infrastructure and Cross-Border Data Flows — Room X

Data is becoming the backbone of the modern economy. But without the ability to collect, analyze, and move data, it is virtually useless. The number of data localization measures have doubled in the past six years forcing companies to produce or establish part or all of their operations within different national borders. The reality is that requiring data to be stored within national borders, whether targeting certain sectors or more broadly, leads to higher expenditure, lowers data security, and disincentives foreign investment. It puts companies at a competitive disadvantage by requiring the need to maintain data locally while also trying to use it globally.


At the same time, the entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) creates new openings for unleashing business opportunities estimated at $5 trillion by 2025,[1]  improvements in intra-African trade and modernization in trade and investment mechanisms throughout the continent. How can digital trade and opportunities associated with e-commerce support reduced transaction costs, shortened customs clearance times, better supply chain management, more streamlined integration into value chains to reach new markets and customers, and enhanced economic productivity? The cloud and having enabling infrastructure will be a key driver in the next frontier. This theme will explore questions such as:


  • Why are countries turning to localization policies and what are the real policy objectives?
  • How can real policy objectives be met instead?
  • How can government and society be educated on the benefits of data flows and the detriments of localization?
  • What are examples in Africa or around the world of such policies and best practices?
  • How can government and the private sector work together to improve ICT infrastructure?
  • How is the government thinking of positioning the country to drive innovation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
  • Is the government moving towards a Cloud First mindset? What sort of policies or infrastructure is needed to become cloud first?


Session 2: The Future of Work: Responsible Principles to Enable an Artificial Intelligence Ecosystem

Artificial intelligence and automated decision making increasingly define data-driven innovation. In spite of the significant economic and social potential of AI, however, governments have raised questions about AI and trustworthiness, harmful bias, and competitiveness. This session will cover where AI is being deployed in South Africa and across the continent, opportunities for public-private collaboration on promoting trustworthiness, and how to address legitimate issues associated with AI without undermining innovation.


This session will consider questions such as:

  • Where in South Africa and the Continent is AI already being used?
  • How can the private sector take the lead to promote trustworthy AI?
  • How can South Africa and its regional promote policies conducive to an AI ecosystem?
  • What best policy practices are emerging to ensure that the full potential of AI technologies is being achieved?


Session 3: Enabling Effective Cybersecurity Policy

As cybersecurity increasingly makes headlines, governments are seeking to implement national cybersecurity strategies. If designed well, such strategies may improve resilience to cyber attacks. However, if designed poorly they can inhibit security, place consumers at greater risk, and create barriers to trade. This session will discuss cybersecurity threats and the critical importance of building cross-functional teams to create a holistic approach to improve cyber outcomes. It will also cover the importance of private sector collaboration, and the need to ensure that cybersecurity is not undermined by regulatory fragmentation.


This session will explore questions such as:

  • What are South Africa’s cybersecurity and data protection objectives?
  • What kinds of policies facilitate effective cybersecurity frameworks?
  • What is the future of industrial control systems on African economies?
  • How can South Africa and its regional partners leverage international cyber standards to promote digital trade?