Advancing the Future of Work in Africa through Digital Transformation: The Role of Systems Orchestrators

In collaboration with Dalberg.

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Resilient labor markets are essential to absorb the 375 million young Africans set to enter the job market by 2030. Several ongoing and emerging initiatives have demonstrated the potential of digital transformation in accelerating the growth of resilient labor markets. However, studies and experience show that inclusive digital transformation towards this goal requires more than just discrete investments in infrastructure and apps—it requires systemic shifts. Complementary and continuous investments are crucial in all aspects of the ecosystem, including core infrastructure, enabling infrastructure, applications, policy, skills, and capital/ financing. Dalberg’s digital transformation framework lays out the intersection of these ecosystem components and has been used to support the design of Ethiopia’s Digital 2025 Strategy and, more recently, work with the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) to define drivers of digital transformation, with a specific analysis of Kenya’s journey. Digital Planet’s African Leapfrog Index (ALI) further highlights distinctive building blocks and the strengths and opportunities of six major African countries to harness the true potential of digital technologies to drive inclusive growth and increase jobs.

This exploration aimed to understand how to drive and accelerate systemic digital transformation in African labor markets. To do this, we scanned several internal and external initiatives in this space, including an in-depth analysis of two initiatives in Ethiopia and Kenya. Our principal finding is this: in countries that begin to strengthen their labor markets through digital transformation, we observe the presence of a single actor whose role is essential but who often works behind the scenes and with limited capacity. This actor looks beyond infrastructure and applications to clear the path for new solutions and build new systems/ecosystems for the future. This work requires a deep understanding of contexts, the capacity to identify and facilitate new connections, and the ability to recognize how existing power dynamics and influence need to change. We call these actors systems orchestrators.

While the idea of systems orchestration is not new (see Bonnici, Raynerand Walker), its application to digital transformation efforts—particularly in Africa and specifically towards the outcome of greater labor market resilience—is nascent. This report’s three primary objectives, therefore, are to:

  1. provide context for, and specific examples of, systems orchestrators at work in Africa on the task of building resilient labor markets through digital transformation —and highlight where these orchestrators have been successful, where they’ve encountered friction, and where gaps remain;
  2. explore why there isn’t more investment and more explicit recognition of this role; and finally
  3. share reflections and recommendations on what more could be done to enhance the capacity of systems orchestrators and thereby further accelerate digital transformation in Africa.


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