HP's Bradley Pulford unveils benefits of rapid technology adoption for businesses in Africa

HP ATR CAFBradley Pulford, the new managing director and vice president of HP in Africa, unveils the benefits of rapid adoption of technology for businesses and societies in Africa amid the Covid-19 pandemic

Communications Africa: Congratulations to you on your new role as managing director and VP of HP in Africa? So first, what's your vision and strategy for the company in Africa? What are your top five aims that you want to achieve to make an impact on the continent in the next five years?

Bradley Pulford: Thank you. I am excited to be working with Africa, a region which has huge potential for growth in terms of technology, especially as we learn to live in a more fast-paced world. Covid-19 really exposed the digital divide that exists in the continent, and we need to work towards bridging this gap. But this will not happen if we do not learn to work together and realise what technology can do to advance our businesses, education and lives.

I joined HP because I felt the company’s vision and goals matched my own and having been here for six months, I’ve been fortunate enough to see those values in action. Our aim is to make people’s lives better using technology; whether it is by helping young entrepreneurs prepare for the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), through programmes like HP LIFE, or helping local and international organisations and NGOs, like the UN Women and Girl Rising, to address education and skills training for young women.

What is important is innovation: as a business, we are reimagining workforce culture, collaboration and creativity. This means driving innovation in our technology and services for hybrid ways of working and leading powerful advancements in VR, AI and cloud computing. Sustainability also plays a big role in our strategy – we are seeking to get more involved in sustainable activities in Africa that support people, the planet and communities. HP works with its suppliers to protect the planet, and as part of that we have set ourselves a target of doubling factory participation in our supply chain sustainability programs by 2025; there was a 53% increase in 2019, compared to 2015. This is enabling our customers to invent the future through our most sustainable portfolio of products and services. 

Another crucial focus area is diversity. We believe that a workforce is more efficient when it consists of people from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and heritages which is why we seek to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion across the business. We champion dignity, respect and empowerment for all people with whom we work. In 2020, we were recognised on The 2020 Diversity Inc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. 

Reinventing learning within the education sphere is a focus for HP in Africa; it is crucial that we use technology to support children’s learning. With the sudden shift to a hybrid of in-person and at-home learning, technology and digital tools are no longer just one component of learning, but have become crucial to students’ ongoing development, connecting teachers with their pupils, pupils with each other and to resources and learning materials. Our efforts in education are tied in with our focus on the evolution of the workforce where we are updating our technology and services for hybrid ways of working. 

CAF: How important is the role of technology in driving diversity and inclusion across Africa? What are the main barriers that still exist stopping diversity and inclusion in Africa? What can be done to overcome them? 

BP: We know that new advances in technology have a significant impact in creating an increasingly complex corporate and industrial ecosystem that both breaks down the old and creates new barriers to recruiting, developing, and retaining talent. We are creating space for cross-sector collaborations focused on skill-building to prioritise diversity, equity and inclusion as an imperative to their long-term success.

The lack of employee management and the effect of lockdowns are putting pressure on the education systems, especially in public schools where closures disrupted teaching and learning methods.

To overcome these factors, companies should act towards removing workplace and learning challenges, and should try to understand people’s personal barriers to learning. By identifying and addressing the factors that prevent engagement in the workplace and in schools, learners and businesses are both able to get the most out of the learning experience.

Having diverse leadership and middle management is a key component to supporting diversity. Seeing those of the same race, gender or background succeed is reassuring and empowering to others. Having BAME role models will positively shape the experience for younger, less experienced BAME employees. Building a work environment where BAME employees know that they have allies in management who will support them if they experience microaggression is crucial.

A diverse workplace, with inclusion at its core, will mean there is more access to different points of views, skillsets, creative visions, approaches, and experiences, which is more likely to result in technology companies producing more innovative products and services for users and clients.

CAFWhat products and tech solutions are HP spearheading to enable this inclusion? Is having strong diversity and inclusion already part of HP's own culture within the organisation?  

BP: Diversity is fundamental to us; it supports and encourages education and innovations across the world.  As part of our diversity mandate, we have partnered with Girl Rising, a non-profit organisation dedicated to eradicating poverty by providing education to girls. In October 2019, HP and Girl Rising announced the launch of new curriculum and technology solutions (STEM Fields) that will equip up to ten million students and teachers. The multi-year partnership extends to communities in the United States, India and Nigeria.

Our main objective is improving the vitality and resilience of local communities, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to school closures due to the pandemic, we are supporting international organisations and NGOs, including UN Women, to address education and skills training.

We recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UN Women executive director, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, to expand digital learning opportunities for women and girls in five priority countries: Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Morocco. This collaboration builds on an existing partnership model in Mexico where equipment and HP LIFE courses are being offered in digital classrooms to more than 5,000 women under the UN Women Second Chance Education initiative. 

Additionally, our Classroom of the Future program, which aims to bring together distance and online learning partners, tools and platforms in one place, is designed to help schools quickly adopt distance learning through digital lesson plans, virtual assignments, e-attendance, e-assessment and collaboration tools, helping to ensure broad access to education in the pandemic.

CAF: We hear the term Africa 'leapfrogging' the rest of the world due to the rapid adoption of mobile/virtual technology, to what extent is this true now in 2021? Do you think Covid has set this transformational development back in Africa or accelerated it even further due to new digital ways of doing business and life in general?

BP: New technologies have been adopted in Africa due to Covid-19 – these include 3D printing, deploying AR/VR for training, and further developing the workplace and education tools of the future. Although the pandemic had a huge part to play in terms of accelerating the digital transformation. 

From an HP perspective, we have seen the effects of Covid-19 in certain industries, especially in the education sector where the rate at which schools closed was critical for us to respond and ensure that platforms and the access to learning was available for many of the learners across the continent. Africa stands in a great position in terms of the acceleration from a remote work point of view; organisations are shifting flexibly to a remote working platform for many of their employees. 

Africa is the continent that is out paced in terms of learners getting the access of devices to help them learn from home, which also stalls the potential that Africa brings around education. Africa has a great amount of young people between the ages of 15 and 24, at that level where education and entrepreneurship is very critical. We find this potential as a big responsibility to ensure that we have the necessary tools, platforms and devices to ensure that we foster that environment so that the people can be able to learn and acquire new skills. 

Our role is to ensure that teachers can develop the necessary competences to educate their students in new hybrid environment. In Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa we have already launched our Innovation and Digital Education Academy (HP IDEA). The program offers educators the opportunity to create digital capabilities based on educational frameworks from leading global universities. The program is mapped against and delivers on the United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the CESA objectives (Continental Education Strategy for Africa).

HP has a commitment to enable better learning outcomes for 100 million people globally by 2025. We, as HP Africa, conduct a lot of activities to reach this goal and help our continent to grow.

CAF: How is technology helping entrepreneurs build sustainable businesses in Africa? Do you think there are more opportunities for people to improve their lives and be successful more than ever before due to technology? 

BP: Our vision is to create technology that makes life better for everyone; every person, every organisation, and every community around the globe. We are continuing to drive access to quality education globally, enabling anyone and everyone to build skills to compete. This includes BeChangeMaker. 

BeChangeMaker provides access to high quality learning content on HP LIFE, tools and technology for startup acceleration, dedicated coaching, mentoring and customised support, as well as the opportunity to tap into a diverse global network of potential supporters and investors. It is also part of the implementation of the African Union's One Million by 2021 Initiative, launched in April 2019 to catalyse action for youth development in Africa. The African Union Commission does this by facilitating connections between AU Member States, corporate sponsors and development partners to inspire investment in African youth.

HP LIFE has over 30 different free online available courses to learners. This platform is also split into seven different languages to ensure flexibility around addressing some of the communities requiring the kind of access to learnership.

We believe technology can be the great equaliser in education and is using it to enable students in rural and marginalised communities to get access to quality education in the classroom. Africa is a region of entrepreneurs and future leaders eager to help transform the overall economy. With that said, African leaders must provide a strong digital infrastructure, and remove legal, regulatory, procedural and institutional barriers to business and direct investment towards the technology sector. 

Technology and education enable the expansion of learning beyond the classroom, encouraging creativity, collaboration, and participation. HP creates technology solutions that support engaging, personalised education experiences for students, parents, and educators.

CAF: What are the future technologies and innovations to watch out for in 2021 and beyond? 

BP: The global AR and VR market is expected to grow to US$209.2bn by 2022. The VR landscape is rapidly changing amid the Covid-19 pandemic. A large proportion of the workforce is working from home multiple days a week and is searching for new ways to collaborate, whilst gamers are seeking further immersion and intricate detail during play. We are creative in VR, innovating in both hardware and software to offer the world’s most comprehensive VR portfolio and unlock VR’s full potential, creating the next generation of employee and customer experiences. 

As a business, we see an incredible opportunity to transform companies and industries using VR. The five big areas of growth we see are in architecture, construction & engineering, product design, training in both hard and soft skills, healthcare and location-based entertainment. By 2030, 23 million jobs will involve AR and VR in one way or another.  

3D printing will also start breaking into more commercial industries and continue to lead the 4IR. We are already seeing more uses for 3D printing in the automotive, transport, industrial, medical and consumer markets. 3D printing, along with analytics and virtual technology, will continue to impact industry and manufacturing by shortening production processes and supply chains. 

Awareness of the benefits of 3D printing and digital manufacturing has gone mainstream, as the technology continues to bridge supply chain gaps, increase speed of design-to-part, while distributed manufacturing enables the production of what is needed, where it is needed. 

CAF: Anything else that you would like to share with readers?

BP: While we have shifted to a new normality within the technology space especially, this rapid move has reinforced how important access to technology, and an understanding of how to use it, is for educators, young people and business owners for the development of their future. 

As the world continues to adapt to virtual and remote working, adjustments in education are needed too. Now, more than ever, it is important that we use technology to support learning, using hybrid of distance and in-classroom learning tools and resources, to continue students’ development. 

Parents can help their children to succeed by bridging the learning divide. By providing access to technology, such as laptops and other devices at home parents can enable blended learning approaches; increase exposure to resources focused on science, technology, and maths; and strengthen their children’s foundational skills. These tools can help to develop problem-solving skills, and to encourage an interest in, and pursuit of STEM-related careers.

We have experienced first-hand how it has enabled many individuals and businesses to continue to work despite multiple lockdowns, and many have benefitted from the myriad of technology-based solutions that have sprung up quickly to assist us in this new way of being.  We believe technology can be the great equaliser in education, it’s crucial to enable students to get access to quality education in the classroom and beyond.

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