Posted On May 11, 2021

Technology is Beating the Odds to Enable Inclusion of the Elderly in the Republic of Kenya

Tech is combating elder challenges and promoting intergenerational solidarity

Kenya is known as the Silicon Savannah, a moniker rightly earned for spearheading the recent spurt of technological innovations in the African continent. The advent of the 21st century has seen a new wave of digital solutions being launched not from Europe, United States or China, but from Africa. Be it transportation, agriculture, health or finance, Kenya has consistently been one of the most advanced countries when it comes to supercharging conventional problems with modern technological answers. Research shows that 80% of Kenyans now own a mobile phone, with a whopping 119.9% SIM penetration.

Is the older generation left behind?

But with the promise of modern solutions revolutionizing the way we live, we often forget to ensure that all the sections of the society benefit equally from them, or are even in a position to access said solutions. One such section is the elderly – comprising around 1.2 Mn of the total population of Kenya. The digital and generational divide is very much a concern when it comes to effective dissemination of essential services to people aged 60 and above, with the challenges that come with ageing often leaving them exposed to fraud and abuse.

What Kenya has shown is that with innovative executions models, these challenges can be tackled effectively, establishing examples for others to follow. Kenya has a comprehensive online government-to-citizen services platform, eCitizen, offering multiple essential services to each and every citizen, with only a mobile and internet connection required, effectively digitalizing more than 200 essential services. The elderly have not been left behind.

The greatest success story for Digital Revolution

M-Pesa, the mobile payments platform by Safaricom, now offers 70% of Kenyans a mobile money account. M-Pesa allows, in addition to government services, paying for commodities and services, taking out loans, opening savings accounts, among others.

When it comes to the Digital Health explosion, emerging companies like Ponapal are disrupting the market in ways unheard of before. Services like scheduling appointments, end-to-end video consultations, getting doctor recommendations have been brought to patients’ fingertips.

With agents and mobile apps penetrating remote areas previously untouched by government infrastructure, technology has managed to touch and transform the lives of the ageing population as well. The potential for financial abuse has gone down, with the seniors being able to trust the government agents and experiencing a reliable substitute for a traditional bank. Critical and confidential health data is securely encrypted and senior citizens can interact with their caregivers and benefit from a safe and reliable health network.

Bridging the Generational Gap

Like many social aspects in Africa, intergenerational relations are related to its Apartheid past and changing demographic behaviors. Childbearing rates are declining and rate of morbidity and mortality of young adults is on the rise. Kenya too has seen physical and social distance between generations, as evidenced by the decreasing rates of co-residence between fathers and their children and the differences between the educational and digital literacy levels of the older and younger generation.

It’s natural, hence, for technology to play a somewhat divisive role and further widen the gap between older parents and children. But with user-friendly and community-driven development and design language, web and mobile solutions can work in favor of bringing the generations together, where they mutually experience the age of technological innovation and derive pleasure out of a collaborative process. This is exactly what has happened in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa in general.

Ponapal again aims at been instrumental in promoting health inclusion and intergenerational harmony among Kenyans, with its e-health solutions covering Diabetes, Mental Health, Chronic Care and COVID-related solutions.

Need of the Hour- Consolidate & Improve

The adoption of mobile technology and mobile innovations has been much more advanced in Kenya, as compared to other African countries. But there still are many areas that need an enabling policy environment and awareness initiatives to truly help the country achieve its fullest potential:

  • Enabling infrastructure needs to be strengthened to support network quality and reduce outages, to increase reliability and trust in the ecosystem
  • Awareness regarding mobile-based solutions needs to be accelerated, especially among the older population, to further increase adoption
  • Policymakers need to promote firms that focus on developing content that is relevant to all the sections of the population, through grants and tax breaks
  • Players like M-Pesa need to focus on digitalizing cash payments, which still account for 71% of all transactions. Government aid will be crucial to enable near-total digitalization
  • Firms in the Digital Health sector like Ponapal need to focus on making their services even more accessible to both the younger and older population, through effective marketing and awareness drives

While Kenya and the larger African continent has lagged behind in human development metrics, it has been a hotspot for technological innovations and often a launchpad for many solutions that transformed the way people envisioned the role of technology in their lives. It’s rightly said that necessity is the mother of invention. Technology is been a boon for the health and financial sector in Kenya, and it shows no signs of stopping.

What is now needed is an all-round effort from the government, entrepreneurs and the citizens, to further improve the intergenerational equity and strive towards setting even more examples for the rest of the world.

Article by Isaac Mwendwa, Founder Ponapal Inc