If your Internet has ever gone down for an afternoon, you know what it’s like to go without adorable cat videos for a few hours. You also know what it’s like to miss a vital e-mail, never receive basic information about a project, or not be able to respond to a client. Without the Internet, life can be frustrating – but doing business in the global economy is nearly impossible.
Nowhere is this challenge starker than on the African continent. In most sub-Saharan African countries, less than 10% of the population has access to the Internet, representing a major barrier to African competitiveness and entrepreneurship. Building robust information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure is critical to unlocking the region’s tremendous economic potential.
Enter the United States Trade and Development Agency – or USTDA, for short. Avid Simon Says readers will recall that USTDA was a client of ours in the past. But for the rest of you, here’s a refresher: USTDA creates markets for American exports by investing in projects in emerging economies. The agency generates $85 of US exports for every dollar it programs – a real return on investment for the American taxpayer.
In sub-Saharan Africa, USTDA is catalyzing investment in the ICT sector. The agency plays a key role in the Global Connect Initiative, a comprehensive interagency effort to connect 1.5 billion people to the Internet by the end of the decade. And USTDA invested in the early stages of the SEACOM undersea fiber-optic cable system, a reliable, high-speed network that now connects African markets with one another and with Europe and Asia. By investing in feasibility studies, technical assistance projects, and other planning activities, USTDA is helping to create sub-Saharan Africa’s networked future.
Before committing funds to any activity, USTDA must conduct a rigorous analysis according to a set of established criteria. That’s where we come in. USTDA recently awarded Simon Everett a prime contract to conduct those independent analyses. We’ll be advising USTDA on whether a project would be successful – and how its odds of success could be improved.
Over the course of the next two years, we'll work on assessing as many as 18 potential activities across the continent - from broadband initiatives to smart city projects. And if that means more cat videos will bounce from Burkina from Botswana, we'll know we've done our job right.