By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor
Developing economies in Africa have been particularly harder hit by the restricted business activity that has come with COVID-induced lockdowns and economic downturns. SMBs, which make up between 90 percent of businesses on the continent and 94 percent in Nigeria, have particularly been affected by the crisis. MSMEs constitute the backbone of the African economy, accounting for 80 percent of the region’s employment, establishing a new middle class and fuelling demand for new goods and services.
A Mckinsey report estimates that the fallout from the virus could place a third of the 300 million informal jobs in Africa at risk, while between 9 million and 18 million formal jobs could be lost. It also sees as many as 35 million people having their wages and working hours cut.
However, Search engine giant Google has predicted that internet will remain the strongest lifeline for businesses, even after the effects of COVID-19 pandemic has died down. The company’s Head of Consumer Apps, Olumide Balogun, in an exclusive chat with Hi-Tech, said Google search is the major factor to internet’s indispensability when businesses are trying to recover from the COVID effects.
Olumide said current statistics which fuelled the prediction, are encouraging to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, MSMEs in the country, adding that should the trend continue in upward trajectory, Nigeria’s economic recovery from the debilitating blows of the pandemic would be faster than many other countries of the world.
Highlighting these rising trends, Olumide said Nigerians, particularly those who have never been online before are now turning to the Web to get solutions.
He said: “Reports estimate that 346 million people came online for the first time in the last 12 months globally, and 376 million people have used social media for the first time during the same period. Nigeria and many countries in Africa have recorded a similar rise in Internet users during the same period. It is estimated that the number of internet users in Nigeria increased by 19 million between 2020 and 2021, as against the 2.2million increase between 2019 and 2020. That is evidence that many people are turning to the Web to unlock new opportunities following the COVID lockdown-related challenges.
Where is Google in all of this?
Search is helping SMBs find and connect opportunities. Google is making it possible.
Google’s vision is to organize the world’s information and make it accessible and useful. Core strength of this promise is ensuring that everyone that types a query gets answers that are relevant to their situation.
Whether it’s helping students find important material for homework, enabling people looking to learn something new to boost their growth, helping job seekers find jobs or helping businesses connect with users, Search continues to stay true to its core promise of helping people find helpful information that is relevant to them. This was particularly true during COVID.
Where’s the result of these in the profile of Nigerian businesses?
In Nigeria, complete Business Profiles are getting on average 8.4 times more calls, 2.5 times more direction requests, and 5.5 times more website visits compared to incomplete profiles.
Search interest for small to medium businesses reached a five-year high in September in Nigeria. Among trending searches for small to medium businesses, MSME survival fund spiked more than 5,000 percent.
SMB-related searches for grants and loans spiked over 200 percent and over 140 percent respectively in the past 12 months in Nigeria.
Post COVID recovery, how would Google help businesses?
To help small businesses, like restaurants in particular, we rolled out some free product features so that they can inform their customers about things like takeout, delivery, no-contact delivery, or curb side pickup. Today, people can now find this information on Search and maps for more than 135,000 restaurants and retailers in Nigeria.
Anything on improving skills?
Yes of course. Improving access to information is also to improve skills. Search interest for E-learning spiked 350 percent over the past 12 months in Nigeria. The topic surged in late April 2020 and continued trending to reach a more than five-year high in June.
Virtual learning environment related searches spiked more than 400 percent over the past year in Nigeria.
Skills to learn in 2020, doubled in search interest over the past 12 months, while search interest for soft skills climbed to a five-year high in Nigeria.
People looking for what is inclusive education, particularly, spiked over 550 percent just as search for Job vacancies in Nigeria 2020 spiked over 250 percent in the past 12 months, while remote jobs in Nigeria spiked over 180 percent.
Also, search interest for remote work, or Telecommuting, reached its highest peak in a decade in Nigeria in May 2020.
We are a technology company and we are constantly thinking about solving problems. The pandemic has just helped everybody to understand the need to do more than the usual. Our vision for the last 22 years is to organise the world’s information to be accessible and useful. We are always thinking about solving problem for users and businesses.
We are constantly thinking about the new internet users who are coming online and how to provide them a platform that helps guide them. So for us, it is how we continue to double down on our vision to use our product and services to improve the lives of Africans.
Another thing we understand through insight, is that now a lot of businesses are pivoting online, as face to face interactions are limited, and these businesses have created a social presence across all social platforms.
That was the reason we launched the Google knowledge panel which helps people showcase themselves online. You are able to add yourself to Google search and you add all your online profiles so that when people search for you, your name can pop up on Google search and the person find all the ways to contact you into a single view.