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How NEC’s Social Impact business is helping farmers, energy and telecoms in Africa

Like many countries on the African continent, South Africa has a young, growing population. However, its roughly 60-million population face a challenge that may be surprising to people from other countries: daily power outages that may last as long as 12 hours. It’s a challenge that Yosuke Koide is working to address through cutting-edge technology developed by NEC.

Working to change lives in Africa

NEC has had a presence in Africa since 1963, helping build telecommunications, submarine cable, biometrics technology and broadcasting infrastructure. In 2011, it established NEC Africa (Pty) Ltd. in South Africa, a company focused on growing NEC's business in the Sub-Saharan region. Yosuke moved to South Africa on January 2016 shortly after NEC invested minority shareholdings of XON on July 2015 , a local systems integrator and renewable energy provider established in 1996, joined NEC Group. He is now General Manger, and Head of Global Synergy Creation at NEC XON.

Based in Johannesburg, Yosuke says that living in South Africa is a challenge however he enjoys. Yosuke is in charge of communications, biometrics technologies, enterprise sectors, public sectors, international organizations such as United Nations and alternative energy solutions in 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa centered on South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. He says that the so-called “loadshedding” power supply problems in South Africa, caused by aging infrastructure, poor maintenance, and other issues, are also a major issue in other African countries, disrupting lives and economies.

“For almost half a day we are without power,” says Yosuke. “Without power generators at home or office, we cannot survive.”

Some of the many companies affected by energy issues include mobile network operators that keep Africa’s mobile phones connected to each other and the world. NEC XON has supplied these utilities with Hybrid Energy Storage Solutions, a flexible system that can improve reliability and save on energy costs. A typical situation would involve a rural, off-grid telecom base station combined with a solar panel array, lithium-ion battery storage, and a diesel generator. By deploying this kind of hybrid energy systems to cell towers, operators can realize diesel fuel savings of over 50%, as well as reduce CO2 emissions and operating expenses including the cost of bringing fuel to off-grid telecom base station in rural areas.

“This has been a very successful accomplishment,” says Yosuke, noting that more than 700 of the hybrid energy systems have been deployed across South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania, countries he visits every few months for business.

Another instance is how NEC XON is cooperating with the international organization in Namibia.

Smart payments helping Namibia’s farmers

Making mobile networks more sustainable and reliable is one example of how NEC is using technology to benefit society in Africa. In fact, there are many ways to generate social impact by harnessing the power of technology.

In the past, Namibia’s Ministry of Agriculture distributed paper-based subsidy vouchers to small-scale farmers nation-widely to help them buy seed and fertilizer. However, many vouchers were lost, it takes a lot of time to distribute vouchers to small-scale farmers individually and the government was unable to grasp the details of how and where they were being used. NEC XON supported the government together with the international organization by introducing ‘e-Voucher’ which provides the Farmer ID as an Android smartphone-based payment platform. Meanwhile, farmers received IC cards with token-based subsidies. These IC cards can be used to buy goods at retail shops, and this electronic scheme has contributed to making the operation more efficient and cost-effective.

“Thanks to these technologies, the small-scale farmers can enjoy buying fertilizer or seeds for cultivation,” says Yosuke. “Meanwhile, the international organization staff can grasp which farmers purchased how much seed or fertilizer, and how much is required for the next round of vouchers.”

Life lessons: Respect and diversity

Yosuke says the most important thing he has learned during more than five years in South Africa is the value of mutual respect and understanding. It’s something that helps people overcome their cultural differences and lets them work together. He has also learned about the diversity of cultures in Africa, something he was unaware of when living in Japan.

“Japanese tend to view Africa as just one country,” says Yosuke. “But as you know, there are over 50 countries and many peoples, ways of thinking and languages. I am really enjoying those differences and that diversity.

“Living and working in South Africa is very hard, and every day something surprising happens. But it’s so exciting, and I’m gaining lots of experience and learning more and more as a human being. I would like to continue living here and grow together with African people by using cutting-edge technologies.”

NEC has the capability to support international organizations in South Africa and beyond. This capacity is based not only on NEC’s vast technological resources, but the involvement of staff who have accumulated experiences by cooperating with many international organizations. In this way, the people who work at NEC are making a difference around the world.

Yosuke Koide

Yosuke Koide is General Manager of Global Synergy Creation at NEC XON. A native of Tokyo, Yosuke worked at a foreign IT company after graduating university. Upon joining NEC, he worked in overseas sales and was later transferred to the African sales department. Yosuke moved to South Africa on January 2016, shortly after NEC invested minority shareholdings of XON on July 2015.

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