At the launch of the Digital Content Hub, in Johannesburg, French ambassador to South Africa Christophe Farnaud highlighted the cooperation between South Africa and France on innovation, which is one of the economic priorities of France, as articulated by French President Emmanuel Macron.
With rare winter rain punctuating his speech, Farnaud said the winds of change were blowing and that countries’ economies had to adjust, change and evolve in response to globalisation to remain competitive.
“It starts with innovation, research and development and places where young and creative minds can gather and exchange ideas and find partners. For the French government, the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and private partners, this is what we have been doing.”
He highlighted the cooperation on digital innovation that the French embassy in South Africa has across the country, as well as through the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), including with the University of Cape Town, and more broadly across Africa.
The Digital Lab Africa, an initiative launched by IFAS in 2016 to support African start-ups creating multimedia content to realise their projects with the support of French and African companies, has already seen five winners sent to France as part of an exchange programme and will this year involve the exchange of ten entrepreneurs and content creators between the countries.
The existing Digital Lab Africa system will be integrated into the new Digital Content Hub.
“We are building something strong, fitting and useful for both economies. Innovation means growth, and growth means jobs, which is what Johannesburg needs and what South Africa needs. “This partnership is not just diplomacy, but is necessary.
“Therefore, the official launch of the Digital Content Hub, through the AFD grant of R15-million, is significant and is just the beginning, and we [look forward to] other successful projects together,” said Farnaud.
AFD Southern Africa regional director Martha Stein-Sochas said this type of investment was new for the AFD.
“President Macron has spoken about supporting cultural and creative industries, and the AFD has been tasked with developing ways to do this. We recognise that the cultural and creative industries sector has strong development potential in Africa and the grant of almost R15-million is testimony to this.”
The engagements with IFAS, and IFAS Media, Film and Music regional head Erika Denis, as well the economic services arm of the French embassy and Tshimologong, led to the AFD making its largest contribution to date.
“We recognise the immense transformative potential that these industries bring to South Africa and the rest of the continent. We think we should be part of the story and the ‘Africa Rising’ theme.
“This investment is for local audio-visual content creation and export into Africa and the world, and will also help to address the issue of youth unemployment and youth skills development, which helps them to change their lives and place them on an upward path,” added Stein-Sochas.
Incubation Hub Tshimologong CEO Lesley Williams noted that the cooperation with IFAS Digital Lab Africa also enabled the incubation hub to deepen its engagement with Francophone African countries and infuse its work with ideas from these countries and their cultures.
This is a rich, practical partnership that focuses on job creation, skills development and skills transfer, she said.
“The missing component of the Tshimologong precinct, which aims to stimulate software, hardware and content innovation, has been content. The Digital Content Hub will focus on animation, gaming, artificial intelligence and virtual reality – all the exciting themes in content.
“Further, when we look at the future of work and Industry 4.0, there are huge unknowns. What is typically missing in the predictions is the arts. “The arts are part of the new technological revolution and are relevant in society to fill the gaps that technology on its own, without the human touch, cannot bridge.”
Therefore, the focus should be not only STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, but also STEAM skills, which includes the arts.
Significantly, while the new content hub can serve as a model for best practice transnational partnerships and public–private partnerships in innovation, the hub will also aim to ensure the economic value for musicians and artists is addressed.
“We kick off the skills academy with a focus on animation and gaming. We have had some cooperation and exchange between South Africa and France for the animation of children’s stories and this is a success we aim to replicate in other creative disciplines.”