Startups with technology-integrated business models are becoming more prevalent, setting higher standards, and achieving valuations that surpass US$1.7billion annually in the Turkish business community. Istanbul is now on pace with digital capitals such as London, Paris and Berlin, thanks to a wave of investment that exceed US$1.7billion. However, Turkiye’s recent tech success has been years in the making.
Traditionally known as a key manufacturing hub of Europe, Turkiye and – especially Istanbul – has emerged as a key global tech hub. In this article, I’ll review the key players and factors behind the Turkish tech boom and what lessons we, as a country, can draw from the Turkish experience.
A few years ago, Trendyol – a technology business now valued at US$16.5billion, became the first ‘decacorn’ (a tech company valued at US$10billion) in Turkiye; thanks to funding raised from the Qatar Investment Authority and SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Trendyol began as an online apparel shop in 2010 before branching out into meal delivery and introducing a digital wallet. Trendyol’s story typifies the strong growth in Turkiye’s tech sector in the last two decades.
The data-driven Turkish economy is currently fueled by gaming, e-commerce, food delivery apps and software companies. Retail is being revolutionized by businesses like Trendyol and Hepsiburada. Dream Games stands out as a global leader in the burgeoning gaming sector. Getir, a pioneer in quick grocery delivery with a valuation of over US$7.5billion, has a completely distinct retail strategy. These companies and several others have revolutionized the digital sector in Turkiye from a strong local and regional player to a global powerhouse. But how did this revolution happen so quickly?
The pandemic’s effects significantly increased the global online retail market, and as a result e-commerce penetration in Turkiye increased from 3.5% before the pandemic to about 18.6% currently. More importantly, the success of local online shops can also be attributed in part to the difficulties faced by global titans Amazon (which entered the Turkish market by acquiring shares in local online retailers) and eBay (which paid over US$200million to purchase GittiGidiyor.com) to properly penetrate the Turkish market the way it has successfully done in most countries.
As already indicated, a key growth sector in the Turkish tech sector is gaming. With millions of people globally playing games created in Turkiye, gaming startups are booming into global brands. The gaming industry continues to see the growth of new billion-dollar firms. Peak and Rollic, two Turkish game developers, both acquired by the global giant Zynga for US$1.8billion and US$180million respectively, demonstrated the capacity of Turkish startups to think and succeed globally. In only a few years, Dream Games’ capitalization is now at about US$2.7billion.
To better appreciate the factors behind this meteoric growth, it’s crucial to better understand the key advantages Turkiye leveraged to build its tech sector. Let’s review a few key ones.
Geographic and Demographic advantages
The Turkish government and business community have successfully leveraged Turkiye’s unique Eurasia location to the maximum. Businesses operating in Turkiye have access to the brightest minds in Asia and Europe, with only a short plane trip from many of the world’s capitals.
Crucially, Turkiye’s population is young and well-connected; making it a hub for innovation. People under 30 make up around half of the over-80 million population. A staggering 75% of Turkish people own a smartphone, with 68.7 million Internet users. These numbers naturally make Turkiye a strong market for tech businesses and investments. It is thus no wonder that many global tech brands are queuing to invest in Turkiye’s tech sector.
Shrewd Government Policy and Investment
Government investments and incentives to encourage entrepreneurship have been crucial to supporting growth of the tech industry. The tech industry’s development is actively pursued by Turkish national organizations like the Technology Development Foundation, Scientific and Technological Research Council and TUBITAK. Turkiye also actively collaborates with the international intergovernmental network Eureka as a member, hosting initiatives like EuroSTAR and Teknofest to promote innovation, research and development.
The Turkish government has also constructed a number of technology parks, or “teknoparks,” that serve as homes to companies that have represented Turkiye in various cutting-edge initiatives overseas in addition to hosting and assisting firms. Businesses working within technology parks had exported goods worth more than US$7.6billion as of 2022. There are around 85 technology development areas that employ over 56,000 people in research and development and host over 5,500 enterprises. The entire income of the teknoparks reached US$17.6billion in 2022.
Strong local and international collaborations and partnership
Türkiye has witnessed tremendous expansion in its cloud and digital service offerings in the last few years, primarily as a result of alliances with multinational corporations.
For instance, Turkcell Group, the nation’s top digital services provider, recently teamed up with Huawei to roll out 5G and drive a transformative shift. Meanwhile, KoçDigital – a leading AI provider in Turkiye, and Blue. Cloud – a global leader in digital transformation, teamed up to accelerate AI innovations and enhance predictive analysis in enterprise digital transformation.
In order to accelerate innovation through cloud-native application development and scaling from core to edge, Red Hat and Türk Telekom worked together to optimize micro services architecture and integrate services, data management and analysis.
Furthermore, the digital infrastructure company Equinix, in partnership with TTI – a subsidiary of Türk Telekom, launched the Microsoft Edge Node; enabling Turkish businesses to accelerate their digital transformation by gaining access to the entire suite of Azure Services, encompassing AI and machine learning, IoT and hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Additionally, Türk Telekom and Odine collaborated on cloud-native virtualization technologies.
These strategic collaborations have been crucial in rapidly developing the technical and commercial capabilities of Turkish tech businesses.
The Magic of Istanbul
The strong geographic and infrastructure advantage of Turkiye’s biggest and most populated city is a crucial factor in the country’s strong tech development. For instance, the city is a key hub for underwater cable traffic between Europe and Asia – which supports the cloud’s explosive expansion and low-latency connectivity to offer high-speed data at a reasonable cost.
Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Oracle, Alibaba and many other multinational tech companies have already made investments in Turkiye – many of which are in Istanbul.
The country’s booming startup scene will only attract more investments and businesses. Less than ten years were required for Trendyol and Getir to reach such high valuations. Numerous B2B SaaS businesses, like Insider, Akinon and Picus Security, have great potential to become global leaders in the next few years as well.
What this means for us in Ghana
Turkiye has achieved all this remarkable technological growth by leveraging key strengths and productive policies. These include its robust technological infrastructure, which is a function of a sound long-term policy of investment in the right things, a sizable market, and an innovative spirit, as well as Turkiye’s geographic location. The country is now well-positioned to emerge as a global center of innovation.
Over the last few years, the government of Ghana has zeroed-in and invested heavily in various technological projects, with the very noble goal of digitizing the economy. This is absolutely crucial in our quest to fully develop the technological potential of this country. It is however important that we do well to fully leverage our unique advantages, as Turkiye smartly did. Studying Türkiye’s incentive schemes for the tech sector could also prove highly beneficial to attract more FDI.
While we may not have the market size of Nigeria or Turkiye, we offer the safest political and socio-economic environment for FDI. We have to leverage this key strength in our quest to draw in as much FDI as possible, especially as companies that settle here can always take advantage of AfCFTA to tap into opportunities in other African countries.
It is also super important for the government of Ghana to understand its crucial role in building a strong foundation to enable private sector players to thrive. This foundation, as seen in the Turkish case, is to invest smartly in the right infrastructure as well as champion business-friendly policies to spur private investment and enhance innovation and creativity. Furthermore, government must as a matter of urgency take important steps to stabilize the economy – as this is the ultimate engine for all growth and investments, be they local or foreign.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to learn from the right pacesetters. In my opinion, Turkiye is a much better partner in our drive to develop our tech sector than most western countries, as they are not reluctant to share the know-how with their partners. One of the best examples took place this year, when Turkish satellite pioneer TURKSAT signed an MoU with Crystal TV – fostering efforts to grow the Ghanaian tech sector. Crucially, the fact that Turkiye was able to successfully develop homegrown, billion-dollar tech companies in spite of competition from global western tech powerhouses is an important template we can learn from.
Fortunately, the Turkish government, and indeed the Turkish private sector, have shown strong interest in building mutually beneficial relations with Africa. Ghana is a crucial country they are looking to work with in their quest to attain this goal. It will be useful for the powers that be to explore this opportunity more fully, and ascertain how we can leverage this strategic relationship in the important quest to develop our tech sector.
Digital intelligence not computer literacy needed to create jobs for the e-Ghanaian
The world has had to transition from automation of paper-based specific tasks to digitization (automating back-office operations of organizations, government and private), to digitalization (digital information sharing and communication). This transition phase required end-user computer literacy mostly in the use of operating systems such as Windows and application software such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint as well as technical education with respect to hardware and software engineering.
We are now moving to another phase, from digitalization to digital transformation of the world where governments, businesses and citizens are transforming their lives, models and strategies, unto the digital platform as the new world. The old traditional order has therefore permanently given way to a total paradigm shift of living, which requires more than computer literacy as we have known it, to the development of digital intelligence.
The future is the digital world and Ghana as a country must have a planned system that will deliberately transition and plug in her citizens, especially the youth, into this new global digital economy as e-Ghanaians. Of course, it is obvious we have missed out on the industrial revolution with all our excuses, but we really have no excuse to miss out on this digital revolution. We all are starting from ground zero and it will be a pity if this generation is not visionary enough to create the enabling environment for the generations yet unborn, the e-Ghanaian, to have a head start in the global digitized environment they will be born into.
Learning in Ghana, knowledge acquisition, was reciting multiplication tables, drawing and labelling, tilapia and amoeba in biology, drawing and labelling stalagmites and stalactites in geography, reproducing word for word what Julius Caesar said to Brutus in literature, defining electricity in physics, defining demand and supply in economics, defining matter and osmosis in chemistry. Now we can define just about anything, but do not know what to do with it. We are lacking practical and creative intelligence needed to adapt the academic “chew and pour” knowledge, to solve contemporary challenges of our time. We may be a failed generation but we cannot do that to the next generation, the e-Ghanaian, in the next digital world.
This article is to highlight the fact that there is the need to totally change and disrupt our present model of computer-related knowledge based on the ad-hoc, disjointed, incremental learnings in different aspects of information and communications technologies we call computer literacy. We need to quantum leap and transform to a more integrated, holistic, value chained and strategic model that will create the digital Ghanaian, equipped with the requisite intelligence (analytical, practical and creative) to navigate, survive and take advantage of the digital revolution.
I would differentiate what it means to be computer literate from digital intelligence, introduce the framework for developing digital intelligence by the DQ Institute, and give the way forward with respect to how the framework can be adopted and adapted into the Ghanaian learning system for job creation.
Computer and digital literacy
Literacy is the knowledge of a particular subject, or a particular type of knowledge (Cambridge Dictionary).
Computer literacy by extension is having knowledge of computers, and what they are. How they work and what they are used for? We therefore teach the components of the computer system concerning hardware and what they are used for. We teach how computers work and communicate, language, by way of software programming and how they are used by way of applications, Word, Excel, E-mail among others.
Also, according to David (2010), digital literacy is the ability to communicate or find information on digital platforms. This is moving us a step higher from computer literacy and closer to the new digital environment which is okay but not an accomplishment. It is like knowing how to use a dictionary.
United Nations … (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics (2018) also defined digital literacy as “the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship”. The operative words in this definition are the ability to create employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship but to do that it requires the intelligence of creativity, innovation, practical problem solving and critical thinking. Mastery of the capabilities and limitations of digital technologies and what to do with them, not just how to use them which goes beyond digital literacy into digital intelligence. Being computer literate is therefore different from digital literacy. Computer literacy is a means to digital literacy which is the bedrock of achieving digital intelligence.
This knowledge, computer and digital literacies, are necessary in the continuum of creating the e-Ghanaian but not sufficient. You can use Word and Excel so what? You know how to write programs so what? You know the components of a computer system so what? You can send an e-mail so what? You can find information on the digital platform and so what? I can now use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to do all that. How useful are you now?
“When we teach only for facts (specifics)… rather than for how to go beyond facts, we teach students how to get out of date” (Sternberg, 2008). This for me summarizes the computer and digital literacy model we have been using all this while which will soon get the Ghanaian youth out of date the same way as this generation using the “chew and pour” model is out of date and cannot solve present-day problems.
Computer literacy as we know now will be a given, like we use the pen to write. Today using the pen is not a competence and so will computer literacy be. What is needed is what differentiates us from machines and makes us human, the intuitive, creative and imaginative soft side of the brain, right brain. As for the logical, analytical, quantitative hard side of the brain, left brain, it has been declared redundant and we cannot continue to develop it to be relying on it. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken over and will get worse with its e-descendants yet unborn.
The times that humans had to find a way for machines and technology to make life easy for humans are over. Now as humans, we need to justify our inclusion in the future of the life of machines and technology by making ourselves relevant. It will require developing our digital intelligence and not just computer literacy.
Intelligence according to Wechsler (1958) is the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposively, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment. A combination of many mental processes directed toward effective adaptation to the environment (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2006).
Stenberg, 1988 identified 3 types of intelligence, practical intelligence which is being street smart and common sense, with the ability to find solutions that work in your everyday life by applying knowledge based on your experiences; creative intelligence which is imaginative and problem-solving with respect to the ability to finding a novel solution to an unexpected problem; and analytical intelligence that is academic problem solving and computation of the ability to analyze, evaluate, judge, compare, and contrast.
Digital Intelligence I would then say is the practical (digital smartness), creative (digital innovation and problem solving) and analytical (digital analytics and judgment) intelligence in the digital world as adopted from Stenberg, 1988 as well as the aggregate capacity of the individual to act purposively, to think rationally, to adapt and deal effectively with the digital environment as adopted from Wechsler (1958).
Dr. Yuhyun Park in 2016 coined the term Digital Intelligence Quotient (DQ) to determine the level of digital maturity, competences, readiness, one has acquired to be able use, control and create technology to advance humanity. Since competencies can be developed DQ like any other competence, Emotional (EQ) or Intellectual IQ) can also be developed. The DQ Institute then developed a Digital Intelligence Framework that can be used to improve this DQ.
THE DIGITAL INTELLIGENCE FRAMEWORK
The Digital Intelligence Framework is a global comprehensive digital literacy, digital skills, digital understanding, and digital knowledge needed to live a digital life. This can be adopted and adapted by nations that want to have a planned systematic way in making their citizens digitally intelligent and ready.
It has three levels of maturity or competence levels that cover eight thematic areas. The level 1 competence level is designed to make one a Digital Citizen with the ability to use digital technology in safe, responsible and ethical ways. Level 2 competence level develops Digital Creativity and designed to make one become part of the digital ecosystem and to create new knowledge, technologies and content to turn ideas into reality. The final competence level 3 is for Digital Competitiveness, where one develops the ability to solve global challenges, and to create new opportunities in the digital economy by driving entrepreneurship, jobs, growth and impact.
The thematic areas with their guiding principles are Digital identity (Guiding Principle: Respect for oneself,); Digital rights (Guiding Principle: Respect for rights); Digital literacy (Guiding Principle: Respect for knowledge); Digital use (Guiding Principle: Respect for time and the environment); Digital communication(Guiding Principle: Respect for reputation and relationships); Digital safety(Guiding Principle: Respect for life); Digital emotional intelligence(Guiding Principle: Respect for others) and Digital security (Guiding Principle: Respect for property).
The framework therefore covers the technical, cognitive as well as the socio-emotional competencies needed for the digital world. What we need to add for our purpose of job creation is innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving methodologies.
Our form of literacy since independence has not helped Ghana as a country in the traditional, off-line world. If we continue by transferring that same off-line model by way of just computer literacy, we will remain a developing e-economy too in this new digital world. It will be like a new world has been created by God and yet we are lagging behind. We would end up being e-slaves, blame the western world and go looking for e-repatriation. We need a learning system that will develop not only analytical intelligence as we always have done, but practical and creative digital intelligence as well. Our typical intelligence model is depicted in our annual Ghana national maths and science quiz contest where we have to pour out what we have memorized and solve scientific questions by calculations. This model has been taken over by scientific calculators and software not talking of Artificial Intelligence (AI) so the brain can be developed to be creative and innovate to solve practical problems affecting humanity with the knowledge acquired.
We should not forget the future of work for the e-Ghanaian will not be physically localised but will be remote, virtual with job sharing and anchored on innovation, creativity, imagination and problem solving using digital technologies as the tool. This has already started with some of the current e-youth remotely working for blue chip American companies.
The least we can do is put in place the needed systems, infrastructure, end-to-end learning models from cradle to grave based on the Digital Intelligence framework to make the next generation digitally intelligent. This will call for political will, leadership and thinking not outside the box but without a box since there is no box with this new world with the only limitation being the extent of one’s imagination and creativity. Just as Nkrumah envisioned an industrialised Ghana and started putting in place the needed educational systems, infrastructure to support Ghana’s leap into industrialization which we have not been able to actualize for whatever reason, we need a sort of `e-Nkrumah` leadership to envision a digitalised Ghana and not this adhoc, standalone digitalization thing we seem to be proud of.
The Digital Intelligence framework will have to be incorporated as part of our curriculum. Like we used to have General Paper (GP) in A’level (old school). Who came to change that anyway? No matter the area of study, science or arts, we all did GP for which a pass was needed. You could get all As in your core subjects but if u failed GP you had to write that paper again to gain admission into any higher learning institution. This is what we need to do with the Digital Intelligence framework starting from nursery, primary, secondary (old school) and tertiary. One needs to pass the relevant paper(s) related to that level of education as an indication of proficiency. Once you finish primary school for example, we know your level of digital intelligence and it is built on as you progress.
There are two ways of doing this. The first I will call the lateral approach. This is to inculcate at each stage of our educational system, modules with the 3 competence levels (Digital citizenship, Digital creativity, Digital competitiveness) cutting across a bit of all the eight thematic areas. For example, at the primary level one does a bit of Digital identity, Digital rights, Digital literacy, Digital use, Digital communication, Digital emotional intelligence, Digital safety and Digital security. This will make sure that should anyone fall out of the system up the educational ladder, they would have some level of competency in all areas. As one moves up the educational ladder, the competency levels in that thematic area is enhanced. The second option, the vertical approach, is for example limit Digital identity and rights to up to primary level; Digital literacy, use and communication to secondary level; and Digital emotional intelligence and security at the tertiary level. This will allow and make it easy for one to gauge the level of digital intelligence acquired by a person who has for example completed primary school. It will also make it easy for employers to state the level of digital competence needed for a particular vacancy or job opening and people to undertake short courses later in life to enhance their digital intelligence should they not climb up the formal educational ladder or lack that competency.
There will also be the need to put in place a National Digital Intelligence Learning Platform (NDILP) for non-formal education. This will have all the learning modules for those not in formal education, be a transition for those who have missed out in this new era to bridge the gap, as well as an opportunity for those who do not progress for whatever reason in the formal educational system to self- develop or enhance their digital intelligence. It will also be an opportunity for adult education. This NDILP, a modular e-learning platform, will take one through the various learnings and a multiple-choice test based on the learnings has to be passed at the end of each module with an e-certificate of proficiency being issued instantly.
By adopting and adapting the DQ Institute’s Digital Intelligence Framework into our learning system (deliberately avoiding the use of educational system), and lacing it with critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and innovation methodologies, we will be able to create the future e-entrepreneurial Ghanaian capable of anticipating and innovatively solving business challenges with digital technologies whilst creating jobs.
Computer literacy is a necessary but not sufficient learning to make the e-Ghanaian youth competitive in the digital world. Digital intelligence that incorporates computer literacy and goes beyond into practical and creative intelligence laced with critical thinking and innovation will create more e-entrepreneurs, allow the e-Ghanaian to creatively solve societal problems using digital technologies in whatever endeavour they find themselves.
The “Baby Boomers and Generation X” political class that have been running the country are a spent force with respect to solving our present-day off-line challenges, the known, let alone understand what it takes to position the “iGeneration or Zoomers” e-Ghanaian youth into the digital world, the unknown. As Baby Boomers see digitalization, the beginning of e-civilization as an end in itself and making so much noise about it, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has just come in to blow our mind.
Digital Intelligence will transcend this constitutional 4 years, 4 years’ short-term thinking in whatever system we put in place. We need to have a consensus on a national digital strategic plan developed, championed and owned by the youth with input by all stakeholders. The youth should collectively then hold any government accountable to that blueprint in terms of execution of those deliverables within the timeframe that the government is in power.
What this present generation is doing, that we are calling digitalization is just automation of the old order and transferring things online as we know it in the traditional world. Nothing disruptive of the old order or futuristic. Let us help create the future digital Ghana we want, 50-100 years from today with digital intelligence as the bedrock for job creation.